HE Supreme Court on Wednesday appointed its former judge Justice Indu Malhotra to head a committee to inquire into the Prime Minister’s security breach during his visit to Hussainiwala, Firozpur district, Punjab last week. The convoy of the Prime Minister [PM] was stuck on a flyover for around 20 minutes.
Lawyers Voice, an NGO, which purports to work for advocates across the country, and takes up causes that are in public interest, sought the Supreme Court’s intervention through a petition, to direct the District Judge, Bhatinda, to collect all official documents and materials from all possible sources pertaining to the movements and deployment of the Punjab police in connection with the visit at the earliest and produce the same before the court. The petition also sought the issue of a writ of mandamus or any other writ, order or direction fixing responsibility for the security lapse, and to initiate action against errant officials.
Following the Supreme Court’s direction earlier, the Punjab and Haryana High Court, through its Registry, seized and secured the relevant records for the purpose of the enquiry.
The court noted the petitioner’s concern that the enquiry committee set up by the Punjab Government is an abortive attempt to become a judge in its own cause, as the lapses in the breach of security of the Prime Minister are being seriously attributed to the authorities of the state of Punjab.
The Supreme Court also noted the Punjab Government’s submission that the Centre has already held the officers of the state government ‘guilty’ of the alleged negligence and/or breach of security of the Prime Minister through the issue of show cause notices to its various functionaries, including its Chief Secretary and Director General of Police. The show cause notices required the officers to respond within 24 hours as to why disciplinary action under the All India Services (Discipline and Appeal) Rules, 1969 should not be initiated against them for their “omissions and commissions”.
The Supreme Court observed that there has been a blame game between the Punjab Government and the Union Government as to who is responsible for such lapses.
“War of words between them is no solution. It may rather impair the need of a robust mechanism to respond at such a critical juncture”, the Court said.
The bench, therefore, found merit in the submission of Maninder Singh, senior counsel for the petitioner, that not only the officers/Authority responsible for the above-stated lapse liable are to be identified, but there is also a greater urgency to evolve new measures that may ensure there is no recurrence of such lapses in the future. As both the Union and Punjab governments supported an independent enquiry into the lapses, the bench had no difficulty to order one.
Apart from the Chairperson, Justice Indu Malhotra, the Committee will comprise the Director-General or his nominee, not below the rank of Inspector General of Police, of the National Investigation Agency [NIA], the Director-General of Police, Union Territory of Chandigarh, the Additional Director-General of Police (Security), Punjab, and the Registrar General, the Punjab and Hariyana High Court, who would function as Member-cum-Coordinator.
Pronouncing the order, Chief Justice of India [CJI] N.V. Ramana said that in the opinion of the Court, the questions raised in the petition cannot be left to be resolved through one-sided enquiries.
“A judicially trained independent mind, duly assisted by officers who are well acquainted with the security considerations and the Registrar General of the High Court who has seized the record pursuant to our earlier order, would be best placed to effectively visit all issues and submit a comprehensive report for the consideration of this Court”, CJI Ramana pronounced for the bench, which also comprised Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli.
The bench framed the following Terms of Reference [ToR] for the inquiry committee:
- What were the causes for the security breach for the incident on January 5, 2022?
- Who is responsible for such a breach, and to what extent?
- What should be the remedial measures or safeguards necessary for the security of the Prime Minister or other Protectees?
- Any suggestions or recommendations for improving the safety and security of other Constitutional functionaries.
- Any other incidental issue that the Committee may deem fit and proper
It directed that till the conclusion of the inquiry by the Court-appointed committee, the inquiries ordered by the union government and the state government into the PM’s security breach would remain in abeyance.
The Court has directed the Registrar General of the Punjab and Haryana High Court to hand over the record of the PM’s visit to Punjab to the Committee so that it could give it a comprehensive report at the earliest.
Justice Malhotra, who has been appointed as chairperson of the Committee, retired from the Supreme Court in March last year after serving close to three years as a judge.