District Magistrate of West Tripura, Sailesh Kumar Yadav who was caught on camera forcefully intervening and stopping a wedding ceremony in State's capital Agartala, should be shifted out of the city so that an impartial inquiry can be conducted into the incident, the Tripura High Court told the State government.
A Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Akil Kureshi and Justice SG Chattopadhyay said that any enquiry would necessarily require recording of statements of witnesses and it would be difficult for many witnesses to come forward and to give truthful account of the incident if the DM is retained at Agartala.
"We are of the strong prima facie view that in order to conduct an impartial fact finding inquiry regarding the incident and the role played by the D.M.; which is absolutely imperative; it would be essential that he is shifted out of Agartala," the order passed by the Court stated.
The Court, therefore, requested the Advocate General to take instructions from the government on this aspect and revert back to the Court on the next date of hearing with necessary instructions.
The Court also barred the DM from making any public statements in relation the incident.
"The District Magistrate shall not make any public statements in any form including to media be it electronic, print or social media in relation to the incident of the night of April 26, 2021 and the subsequent inquiry which is pending against him," the Court directed.
The Court meanwhile also stayed the inquiry instituted against the DM by the State government.
The directions were passed in two petitions filed regarding the recent incident which took in Tripura on April 26 when a video went viral on social media showing the DM forcefully stopping a marriage ceremony for violating COVID norms.
One petition, a public interest litigation plea was filed by a lawyer praying that action including criminal proceedings should be initiated against the DM and his team who accompanied him.
The second petition was filed by the priest, who was called to perform the marriage ceremony of the bride and the groom. He prayed for a direction to take punitive action against the District Magistrate and his team members including departmental action.
The Court noted that soon after the said incident came to light, the State Government has instituted a two member Committee to inquire into the incident and to submit a report to the government.
"While this inquiry was going on, the Government has also passed an order dated 2nd of May, 2021 by which the District Magistrate concerned is divested of the charge of DM & Collector, West Tripura till the inquiry is completed or till further orders," the Court noted.
When the matter came up for hearing, the Advocate General SS Dey requested the court that publication of any news in relation to the present court proceedings may be prevented. He said that "certain quarters may deliberately sensationalize the issue."
The Court, however, turned down the request stating that freedom of press is a fundamental right and also impacts right of people to access information.
"Freedom of press is a valuable fundamental right and relates to the right of the people of acess to information. Such right cannot be lightly curtailed. We, however, assure learned Advocate General of two things. One, no amount of sensationalization of the issue from any quarter would hamper our judgment and secondly, if any instance of any publication which is either contemptuous or is defamatory is brought to our notice, the same can always be dealt with on case to case basis," the Court said.
On the merits of the case, the Court noted that certain documents/ information would be needed to examine the issue further. It, therefore, ordered the following:
(i) The complete footage of the video clips which are circulating in the social media.
(ii) The Advocate General shall place on record the Notification under which the inquiry against the DM has been instituted.
(iii) The advocates of the petitioners as well as the Advocate General shall place on record whatever proceedings which may have been instituted either before the Police or before the Government in relation to the said incident of the night of April 26, 2021.
(iv) The petitioners shall disclose as to how many guests and serving staff were present in the marriage hall when the incident took place.
(v) The Advocate General shall provide the exact stage of the inquiry instituted against the D.M.
(vi) The Advocate General shall also state whether any lady members were arrested or detained at the police station on the night of April 26 and whether the raiding party along with the District Magistrate contained any women police officers
The court also refused to initiate any actions against the team members who followed the orders of their senior officials.
"We are not inclined to consider any action against any of the team members of the District Magistrate since they were merely carrying out the orders issued to them by their superior," it ordered.
At the time when the entire country is facing an extremely difficult situation of managing corona virus spread, we would certainly not send signals to the foot soldiers that carrying out the orders of their superiors can expose them to inquiries, the Court added.