Whom does one trust for a just, fair and impartial investigation?

21 August 2020
Mass anti-Sikh violence followed the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984. While hearing the case of Sajjan Kumar, a Congress leader who instigated a mob that murdered five people, the Delhi High Court concluded that the Delhi Police failed abjectly in investigating the violence, and found reason to believe the police had connived in brutal murders.
Praveen Jain / Indian Express Archive
Mass anti-Sikh violence followed the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984. While hearing the case of Sajjan Kumar, a Congress leader who instigated a mob that murdered five people, the Delhi High Court concluded that the Delhi Police failed abjectly in investigating the violence, and found reason to believe the police had connived in brutal murders.
Praveen Jain / Indian Express Archive

The decision of the Delhi High Court in the case of Sajjan Kumar makes for interesting reading. In 2013, a trial court acquitted Kumar, a Congress leader, while convicting five others for killing Sikhs in the anti-Sikh violence that followed the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984. Upon appeal, the High Court found Kumar guilty of instigating a mob and participating in the killing of five members of a Sikh family. He was sentenced to a life term. Among the court’s conclusions was that the Delhi Police had failed abjectly in investigating the 1984 violence. There was a failure to register separate First Information Reports in respect to the five deaths, and circumstances showed that the Delhi Police had connived in brutal murders. Another conclusion was that this was “an extraordinary case where it was going to be impossible to proceed against A-1 [Sajjan Kumar] in the normal scheme of things because there appeared to be ongoing large-scale efforts to suppress the cases against him by not even recording or registering them.”

Closely related questions have also come up in other cases. Because of an absence of professionalism in investigating officers, in two recent instances the Supreme Court has appointed committees to ascertain the sequence of events leading to particular situations. In the case of an alleged fake encounter that resulted in the death of persons accused of having raped and murdered a young professional in Hyderabad, the Supreme Court appointed a committee headed by one of its retired judges. In the case of the alleged fake encounter that resulted in the death of the gangster Vikas Dubey in Uttar Pradesh, the Supreme Court again appointed a committee headed by a former judge of its bench. This appears to demonstrate a lack of faith in the investigating agencies, and raises questions over their ability to arrive at impartial conclusions. 

So whom does one trust for a just, fair and impartial investigation? Can one have faith in either the local police or agencies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation, once described by the Supreme Court as a “caged parrot”? 

Can one have faith in either the local police or agencies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation, once described by the Supreme Court as a “caged parrot”? 

Two more recent events are also worth recalling. In one instance, this January, the central government transferred the investigation of the 2018 violence at Bhima Koregaon from the Maharashtra police to the National Investigation Agency—apparently without the consent of the state government, and obviously, therefore, without the consent of the state police. Numerous civil-rights activists critical of the government have been arrested on accusations of orchestrating the violence. In another, just days ago, the Supreme Court transferred the investigation into the death of Sushant Singh Rajput, who is alleged to have taken his own life, from the Maharashtra police to the CBI, following accusations that the local police have not investigated the incident in an appropriate manner. The case does not appear to be as complex as it has been made out to be, especially in the frenzied media coverage of Rajput’s death, but is it that even the central government does not have faith in the impartiality of investigations conducted by state police? 

Madan B Lokur is a former justice of the Supreme Court of India.

Keywords: Supreme Court of India Indian judiciary Central Bureau of Investigation NIA CBI
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