Nine Months After The Government Appointed an SIT to Re-Investigate the 1984 Massacre, No One Can Say What It Has Achieved

20 November 2015
In February this year, the home ministry issued a notification to announce the formation of a three-member Special Investigation Team to re-investigate cases relating to the violence against Sikhs in 1984. The SIT was empowered with the authority to re-open cases that had been closed, and file charge sheets if necessary. it was given six months to complete its work.
Adnan Abidi / REUTERS

Nearly nine months ago, on the evening of 12 February 2015, a day before Home Minister Rajnath Singh left for a two-day tour of Manipur and Tripura, his ministry issued a surprising, albeit welcome notification. In December 2014, the government had appointed a two-member committee led by Justice GP Mathur, a retired Supreme Court judge, to examine the possibility of re-investigating the anti-Sikh massacre in 1984. In the report that it submitted in January this year, the panel noted that, “a proper investigation of the offences committed was not conducted,” and that, “some kind of sham effort had been made to give it the shape of investigations.” It went on to recommend the constitution of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to remedy this collective oversight. The notification indicated that the government had accepted the committee’s suggestion and was forming a three-member SIT. This team consisted of Rakesh Kapoor, a retired district and sessions judge; Kumar Gyanesh, additional deputy commissioner of police in the Delhi police; and Pramod Asthana, a senior officer from the Indian Police Service who was heading the SIT.

The SIT had a six-month deadline to re-examine the evidence in criminal cases relating to the acts of violence that erupted in 1984. The team was given the authority to file charge sheets in the concerned courts and reopen cases that the Delhi police had not investigated or had closed due to lack of evidence. “Every crime should be urgently investigated, and this particular matter is decades old. I felt that there is requirement of a new investigation, and that’s why I recommended the constitution of the SIT,” Justice Mathur told me when I spoke to him over the phone on Wednesday.

“There was a lot of expectation from the SIT when it was constituted,” HS Phoolka, a senior lawyer who has been representing the victims of the massacre pro bono since 1984, told me when I met him in his chamber at the Delhi High Court. But, when the six-month deadline elapsed in August, the functioning of the SIT began taking a distressingly familiar route. The only news that emerged was that it had been given an year-long extension to submit its report. The SIT, so far, Phoolka told me, had not moved an inch in any direction. “They have made absolutely no progress on anything. Not only they haven't reached out to any of the victims, when one of the victims sent the SIT a complaint, it was returned without any comment,” said Phoolka, “They did not even accept it!”

According to Phoolka, even the constitution of the SIT was the outcome of a “credit game” that the central government is playing with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). (Phoolka joined the AAP in 2014, and unsuccessfully contested the Lok Sabha polls as the party’s candidate from Ludhiana in Punjab. Last month he resigned from all party posts in order to devote his attention to the cases of 1984.) “The AAP had announced the formation of the SIT for looking into 1984 riots in its first stint in power in 2014, and they were going to do it again after assuming office on 14 February,” said Phoolka, “so the central government did it in haste to get the credit.”

When I asked Justice Mathur about the state of the SIT that had been established on his recommendation, he said, “See, this is not my domain.” He added, “Mr Phoolka had a chat with me as well, but I have no control over the working of the SIT. I really have no idea of what they are doing.” Last week, in what promised to be a respite from this bureaucratic lassitude, Justice Mathur helped arrange a meeting between members of the SIT and Phoolka. Soon after, Phoolka told me, “I got a call from some inspector who said that the meeting is cancelled.”

Atul Dev is a staff writer at The Caravan.