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SC ex-judge Indu Malhotra to head 5-member panel that will probe ‘breach’ in PM Modi’s security

3-judge bench led by CJI Ramana says questions over PM’s security ‘can't be left to be resolved through one-sided inquiries’, reiterates central & Punjab govt probes won't proceed.

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court Wednesday nominated former SC judge Indu Malhotra as the head of an independent five-member panel to probe the “major breach” in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s security in Punjab on 5 January, while he was on his way to attend an election rally in Ferozepur.

Justice Malhotra was the first woman advocate to be elevated as an SC judge directly from the bar, in 2018, and retired in March 2021.

A three-judge SC bench, led by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana, had indicated Monday its intention to form such a committee, but had not issued a detailed order on it.

Before it disclosed the names of the members, the bench, also comprising justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, read out the reason for setting up the panel. 

“In view of the submissions, we are of the principal opinion that these questions (related to PM’s security) cannot be left to be resolved through one-sided inquiries,” the court said.

It added that a judicially-trained independent mind, duly assisted by officers who are “well acquainted with the security considerations” and the registrar general of Punjab and Haryana High Court would be “best placed and effective” to visit all issues and submit a comprehensive report for the court’s consideration. 

Pursuant to the court’s earlier order, the registrar general of the HC has already taken into custody necessary documents related to the security arrangements for the PM’s visit.

“We, therefore, deem it appropriate to appoint an inquiry committee,” the court said, reiterating the inquiries commissioned by the central and Punjab governments shall not proceed.

The other members of the panel are director general of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), or his nominee not below the rank of inspector general, director general of police in Chandigarh, and ADGP (security) Punjab. The HC registrar general will also assist the panel and hand over all the records to the chairperson, according to the order.

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Order details

The SC order also set out the terms of reference and the scope of inquiry for the panel. 

According to the direction, the committee shall look into the causes for the security breach, the people responsible for it and to what extent, and also recommend remedial measures or safeguards necessary for the security of the prime minister and other protectees.

The panel was also given liberty to make any other suggestion for the safety and security of other constitutional functionaries or any other critical issue the committee may deem it proper to look into. 

There was no deadline fixed for the inquiry panel to submit a report. The order simply said the panel should “submit a report at the earliest”.

What happened earlier

The court order came on a PIL filed by NGO Lawyers Voice, seeking a court-monitored inquiry into the alleged lapse.

On 8 January, the court had directed the Punjab and Haryana HC registrar general to secure the records related to the PM’s visit, and had also orally asked the Centre and state governments to put on hold their respective probe committees.

During the hearing Monday, Punjab’s Advocate General D.S. Patwalia told the court that despite Friday’s order, the Centre issued seven show cause notices to state officers, including the chief secretary and the director general, asking them why action should not be taken against them.

In response, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta quoted the Special Protection Group Act and the ‘Blue Book’ compiled under the law on the steps to be taken for the prime minister’s protection. He claimed SPG’s role is to ensure “proximate security” for the PM and that it was the director general of police and state officers’ responsibility to provide inputs on the crowds gathering on the flyover.

Last week, the PM was on his way to address a rally in Punjab’s Ferozepur by road, after inclement weather forced a changed in plans for him to take a helicopter out of Bathinda airport, when protesting farmers blocked the road, resulting in him being stuck on a flyover for 15-20 minutes. He had to then cancel his visit and return, in what the Ministry of Home Affairs later called a “major security breach”.

(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)

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