1984 Riots, Supreme Court
1984 Riots, Supreme Court

Lack of interest shown by Police in handling cases: Justice Dhingra Committee Report on 1984 riots

Sanya Talwar

The Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court to probe the cases related to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots submitted its report on Wednesday, criticising the role of the police and other authorities in dealing with the cases.

The two-member SIT headed by former judge of the Delhi High Court Justice SN Dhingra and IPS Officer Abhishek Dular submitted its report more than a year after it was directed by the Supreme Court to probe the 186 cases related to the 1984 riots.

The Court had, in January 2018, initially set up a three-member SIT to probe the cases. However, one of the members of the SIT subsequently withdrew from the panel. An application seeking a modification of the Court order was filed, praying for the probe to be carried out by the two remaining members of the team. The Apex Court agreed to this vide an order passed in December 2018.

Though the Supreme Court referred 186 cases to the Justice Dhingra Committee, it took upon records of a total of 199 cases that were investigated by the previous SIT.

The Bench of Justices Madan Lokur, Deepak Gupta and Hemant Gupta had directed the two-member SIT to probe the cases
The Bench of Justices Madan Lokur, Deepak Gupta and Hemant Gupta had directed the two-member SIT to probe the cases

Citing reasons beyond their control, the Committee in its report noted that in spite of incessant efforts, the records of several cases could not be retrieved for scrutiny, as these had been “weeded out”. Thus, the reconstruction of many of these records could not have been done. It noted that the findings were, therefore, based on records that were available and enquiries made time and again via different media.

The Committee revealed that the erstwhile SIT had published and republished details of all FIRs in NCR, Chandigarh and Punjab in various newspapers and on the Ministry of Home Affairs website, inviting the public to come out and provide information about the rioters and incidents. However, the report notes that this exercise bore no fruit.

The report further revealed that in light of the atrocities perpetrated during the 1984 riots, largely involving offences of rioting, arson, loot, destruction of property, bodily injuries, outraging religious feelings, and murder between November 1-3, 1984, a total of 426 persons were killed - out of which 84 dead bodies remained unidentified - and more than 200 were injured.

Offences were bifurcated on the basis of gravity and type into the following three categories:

Cases involving Property:

The Committee found that even though more than 500 cases of loot and arson were reported, since many FIRs were clubbed together, the number of cases involving loss of property only, were 114 (out of 199).

The report found that in spite of “ostensible efforts” made by the police to establish the identity of rioters, they were unable to do so.

“There is no possibility of further investigation in these cases”, it noted.

Cases involving bodily injury with or without property loss

The Committee found that 31 cases belonged to this category, out of which 26 cases had an untraced report filed by the police, as the culprits remained unidentified.

Cases of Murder with our without property loss

The Committee found that as many as 54 cases were filed under this category. It notes that between November 1-2, 71 people died at the hands of a mob of rioters at various railway stations. The police did not do much to arrest the rioters on the spot, in spite of being present there.

Findings of the Committee:

1) Lost time is the greatest limitation: The report revealed that despite their best efforts, investigation was not possible in any of the 199 cases due to a myriad of reasons including lack of evidence/material and untraceable reports filed by the police. It is noted that it becomes difficult to have any additional material on record after a lapse of 34 long years.

2) Shoddy work by the Police Officers: The report found that a lackadaisical approach - highlighted by delays - was adopted by the police officers. This was the foundational reason for a large number of crimes remaining unpunished, even though a number of aggrieved persons approached agencies and authorities soon after the riots. Records of FIRs were not maintained chronologically and many FIRs were clubbed without application of mind, instead of recording a separate statement for each FIR.

This also led to lengthy, fruitless trials as judges and magistrates did not give separate challans. The Committee found that had the administration and police been more objective in their approach, it would have been possible to put the criminals to task. No efforts were made by the police to save forensic evidence.

The report laments the lackadaisical approach taken by police officers
The report laments the lackadaisical approach taken by police officers

3) Zero effort by Police to help identify unclaimed bodies: The report further revealed that the police stations made little or no effort to ascertain the identity of the recovered dead bodies or to link them to their relatives.

4) Prima facie Abuse of Power by the Police Officials: It was noted by the Committee that the police had acted in a way so as to give a clean chit to “certain persons”. In some cases, they had closed the cases on the ground that the victim had not confirmed the information, despite their having identified the name and address of the rioter.

5) Non-identification of rioters: The report stated that the mob of rioters remained unidentified, as in many cases, the victims had fled on seeing the mob.

6) Judicial process overridden with delay, laches: The Committee criticized the process followed by the trial courts and noted that the witnesses and accused were wise enough to drag the cases on by absenting themselves. This frustrated the already traumatized victims, many of whom eventually gave up.

7) No due process of law followed: According to the report, the due process of law was not followed by the courts and in many cases charges were framed selectively and even haphazardly. The public prosecutors and judges lacked an objective approach while conducting trials, the report notes.

8) Trial court records weeded out: The report revealed that the trial court records had been weeded out in many cases due to which further investigation became impossible.

Recommendations of the Committee

The Committee recommended the possibility of filing appeals along with application(s) for condonation of delay against orders of acquittal in specified file numbers. It pointed out the laxity of the State, reiterating that it should have preferred appeals against judgments in these cases.

It concluded that a scrutiny had revealed that there was evidence to suggest that Inspector Suvir Singh Tyagi, the then SHO of Kalyanpuri Police Station, had been involved in conspiracy with rioters. Even though he had been suspended from service, he had later been promoted as ACP and as such, the case should be referred to Riot Cell of the Delhi Police for action.

The case pertains to the riots against the Sikh community that took place in Delhi’s Trilok Puri area, in the aftermath of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

In November 2018, the Delhi High Court upheld the trial court conviction of 89 persons accused in the case. However, in May this year, the Supreme Court acquitted 7 of these persons, finding that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to prove their guilt in the case.

In December 2018, the High Court also convicted Congress leader and former Member of Parliament (MP) Sajjan Kumar for his role in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, apart from convicting five more. Sajjan Kumar’s appeal challenging his High Court conviction is still pending before the Supreme Court.

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