New Delhi: In six of the seven cases related to the February 2020 riots in Northeast Delhi that have so far gone to trial, material witnesses have failed to identify in court the assailants that were allegedly a part of the mob that damaged their property during the communal frenzy.
These six cases are among those registered with local police stations such as Dayalpur, Karawal Nagar and Gokalpuri in the Northeast district, following the riots in which 53 persons were killed and hundreds injured.
The trial in these seven cases commenced last month before a special court, more than a year and a half after the riots. This court has so far received around 150 cases for trial; they were committed to it after the police filed the charge sheets.
All these FIRs are under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) containing sections related to rioting, theft, mischief by fire or explosive substance with an intent to destroy house, mischief by causing damage and loss of more than Rs 50 and disobedience to an order promulgated by a government officer. The jail term for all these offences varies from between two to 10 years.
A total of 750 cases were registered in the aftermath of the riots. Charge sheets have been filed in around 400 of them. While a large number remained with the police, those where murder charges were invoked were transferred to the Crime Branch. Later, one of the cases assigned to Crime Branch, involving a larger conspiracy theory, was handed over to Delhi Police’s elite Special Cell for a deeper probe.
So far, charges have been framed in about 57 cases, while nine have been remanded back to the magistrate, following a finding that the offences made out from the evidence produced by the police did not make the cases triable by a sessions court. This means they were not of heinous nature.
What witnesses have said
Prosecution evidence has concluded in only one of the seven cases before the special court that have gone to trial, which have been looked into by ThePrint. The evidence recorded so far seems weak.
In six of these cases, the complainants/witnesses have stated there was no immediate response from the police when a call was made on the helpline number 100.
The statements, perused by ThePrint, show that some of the witnesses were not present at the site at the time when their belongings such as motorbikes or scooters and property, including shops, were vandalised. Most had fled the area to either go live with relatives, or to places where the police dropped them off. Those who witnessed the damage have categorically denied seeing the accused burning or destroying their belongings.
While two FIRs pertain to allegations against a man called Dinesh, one carries accusations against Shakil and others.
There is only one case out of the seven in which the complainant has given an affirmative statement against an accused, named Praveen Giri. The same man is an accused in three more FIRs, but in those, he has not yet been identified as an assailant.
FIRs 64/2020 and 141/2020 at Gokalpuri
FIRs 64/2020 and 141/2020 at Gokalpuri name Dinesh as an accused. In 64/2020, he is accused of vandalising the complainant’s house, burning his bike and stealing belongings from his house.
The complainant and his family members have stated on oath that they did not see any rioter damaging the property, since they were not present at the time of the incident.
The statements of 10 witnesses, including three police officials, have been recorded in this case so far.
Out of the three police officials, the beat constable of the area, identified Dinesh on the ground. The constable told the court that there were only four to five rioters who were unmasked, and Dinesh was one of them. The police officer even saw these men entering and setting the complainant’s house on fire.
However, in response to a query, the constable admitted not making any calls to the local police station about the incident, and also conceded he did not inform the investigating officer of the case about the accused’s identity.
According to another police officer’s statement, Dinesh was arrested in this case on the basis of his disclosure statement recorded in another case, FIR No. 78/2020.
Similarly, in FIR 141/2020, the complainant and his family members denied seeing Dinesh committing arson. On being shown their own statements that were earlier recorded before the police, they refuted the contents.
Yet, the complainant said it was wrong to suggest, as the defence did, that he had not seen the incident or the person who vandalised his house. Two police officials who are witnesses in this FIR told the court they did not see the accused vandalise the complainant’s house with their own eyes. Thirteen witnesses recorded their statement in this case.
FIR 131/2020 at Dayalpur
In FIR 131/2020 registered at Dayalpur, the police have incorporated incidents of burning of two shops, including a pastry shop, and an autorickshaw.
The three witnesses who have deposed so far are owners of the three properties damaged during the riots. However, none of them identified the accused in the court. All three witnesses stated that they were not present at the spot at the relevant time. Therefore, they said, they do not know whether the accused present in the court were the actual culprits.
Both shops’ owners said they had pulled down the shutters as the atmosphere became tense. One of them added that he learnt about his shop being burnt four days after the incident.
FIRs 108/2020, 90/2020 and 96/2020 at Karawal Nagar
In these three FIRs, the police have booked Praveen Giri as the accused. While nine witnesses have so far deposed in 108/2020, six have recorded their statements in 90/2020 and eight in 96/2020.
None of the nine witnesses in FIR 108/2020 identified Giri in the court. Those whose property was damaged claimed they were not present at the site at the time of the incident.
An eye-witness, who conceded to seeing the mob on a rampage, told the bench Giri was not part of the crowd. He categorically stated Giri was not the person whom he had seen at the spot and identified a few days later in the police station as the assailant.
Even in FIR 90/2020, the witnesses claimed they did not see their belongings and property being damaged, and got to know about it through someone else.
Similarly, in FIR 96/2020 while the witnesses have given an elaborate account of the sequence of events leading to the riots, none have confirmed Giri’s involvement.
In all the three FIRs, only police officials have corroborated the contents of the complaints.
FIR 120/2020 at Karawal Nagar — only one where accused has been identified
The complainant in this case gave an extensive description of the accused, also Praveen Giri. In his statement before the court, the complainant said the rioters were sporting tika and chanting “Jai Shri Ram”.
The complainant had identified Giri at the police station, and when asked to confirm the identity in court, he did so after looking at Giri. The complainant’s wife and one more witness, however, could not identify him.
The remaining three witnesses who have deposed so far in this case are police officials from Karawal Nagar.
(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)