Manipur crisis: Supreme Court appoints three-member committee of former high court judges to monitor situation

While continuing the hearing related to sexual violence against Kuki-Zo women, the Supreme Court has appointed a committee to look into the investigation, and relief, compensatory and remedial measures in the violence stricken Manipur. 

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ON Monday, the Supreme Court constituted a three-member committee of former judges of high courts to monitor “diverse aspects of humanitarian nature in Manipur”.

A three-judge Bench led by the Chief Justice of India Dr D.Y. Chandrachud and also comprising Justices J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Mishra continued hearing the matter of the gruesome incident of sexual violence against two Kuki-Zo women in Manipur, who were paraded naked by a mob.

The Bench also appointed the director general of police (DGP), Maharashtra, Dattatray Padsalgikar, to oversee the investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

The Bench directed appointment of officers from outside the state to oversee the investigation by both the CBI and state police.

The incident of sexual assault against the two women reportedly took place on May 4 in the Kangpokpi district of Manipur, but came to light only on July 19, after the video began to be widely circulated.

On July 20, the three-Bench judge of the Supreme Court had taken suo moto cognisance of the horrific visuals.

The Bench had directed the Union home secretary and the secretary for the state of Manipur to file affidavits detailing the immediate steps— remedial, rehabilitative and preventive— taken to bring the situation under control.

The Bench had also termed the visuals a “gross constitutional violation and infraction of human rights” which are “simply unacceptable in a constitutional democracy”.

On July 27, the Union home ministry filed an affidavit informing the Supreme Court that it had accepted the Manipur government’s recommendation for an investigation by the CBI into the incident.

The ministry also requested the court to transfer the entire case, including the trial of the offence in question, outside Manipur.

During the previous hearing, on August 1, the Bench noted the inadequacy of the material before the court on account of the lack of categorisation of the 6,523 first information reports (FIRs) lodged in the state.

The Bench had directed the state government to conduct an exercise of disaggregation of the FIRs.

The Bench had also directed the government to submit a tabulated statement on the basis of such categorisation, setting out the date of occurrences of the offences, registration of ‘zero’ FIRs and recording of witness statements.

The tabulated statement was also to contain statements recorded under Section 164 (recording of confessions and statements) of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (CrPC), if any, medical examination of the victims of sexual violence, and the number of accused arrested under each of the FIRs.

A zero FIR refers to registration of a complaint in respect of an offence that is committed in the jurisdiction of another police station. The complaint is then transferred to a police station having the jurisdiction to conduct the investigation.

The concept was introduced by the Justice Verma Committee, headed by Justice J.S. Verma, following the Nirbhaya gang rape in 2012.

State-appointed investigation teams

The Bench perused the disaggregation of offences and the tabular statement of data.

On the basis of the FIRs, the Attorney General of India R. Venkataramani submitted a note of suggestion on behalf of the Union and state governments.

Considering the district-wise configuration, the note suggested the constitution of 42 special investigation teams (SITs) or state-appointed investigation teams that would be headed by officers not below the rank of superintendent of police to investigate over 6,000 FIRs that have not been transferred to the CBI.

Venkataramani submitted that such teams will be supervised by an inspector general and deputy inspector general of Manipur.

In view of the tense situation, any external forces or teams can worsen the situation in the state, Venkataramani added.

On August 1, the Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Union and Manipur governments, had apprised the court that the CBI can handle all 11 reported complaints of violence against women and children reported in a preliminary analysis.

Today, senior advocate Vrinda Grover, appearing for the organisation Women in Governance, raised concerns on the nature of investigation proposed by the Union and state governments.

Grover flagged the difficulty that while all FIRs have been registered in Imphal, the victims are no longer residing in the city.

Grover sought the court’s directions on authorising the appropriate jurisdictional magistrate to record victim statements.

Grover also highlighted that the FIRs registered did not contain references to laws dealing with certain crimes alleged to have been committed, such as Sections 166A (dealing with public servants disobeying directions of law) and 376(2)(g) (commission of rape during communal and sectarian violence) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 as well as The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.

Advocate Nizam Pasha, appearing on behalf of the petitioner Zomi Students Federation, stressed the need for an oversight mechanism to ensure that the investigation undertaken by the state police is impartial.

Alleging that people, especially victims, had lost trust in the administration due to active participation of some officials in the violence perpetrated against them, Pasha recommended the appointment of special public prosecutors from outside Manipur to handle the cases of violence.

Pasha contended that 16, and not 11, FIRs of sexual violence against women should be handled by the CBI. The Bench directed Mehta to ensure Pasha is consulted on the missing FIRs, if any.

Investigation and prevention

Senior advocate Indira Jaising argued an intervention application filed by Mahua Moitra, member of Lok Sabha from the Krishnanagar constituency in West Bengal.

Jaising presented a joint submission on behalf of her, Grover, Pasha and advocate Shobha Gupta, appearing for the organisation We The Women.

Through the joint submission, Jaising prayed the court to take measures on ensuring proper investigation and prevention of further crimes of sexual nature against women.

On the issue of investigation, Jaising firstly presented the recommendation to appoint a high-powered committee that can report to the court following its preliminary fact-finding from all available resources. 

Secondly, Jaising called for the appointment of a court-monitored special investigation team to conduct a time bound investigation. 

On the issue of measures to prevent mob violence, Jaising submitted the joint recommendation to invoke Articles 256 (obligation of states and Union territories) and 257 (control of the Union over states in certain cases) of the Constitution to ensure directions are issued by the Union government to the Manipur government to enable enforcement of law and order in the state. 

“Core ring leaders”

Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, representing the petitioner Manipur Tribals’ Forum, reiterated his submission from the previous hearing that while the directions of investigating FIRs are issued by the court, it is also important to identify the “core ring leaders”.

According to Gonsalves, a significant portion of the investigation should focus on the people and organisations that created and executed the conspiracy, causing violence.

Gonsalves contended that once the core elements are identified and arrested, further assault and violence in the state will stop.

Overseeing structure

In order to restore confidence and faith in the rule of law, the court has provided a structure of overseeing the humanitarian measures and investigation to be undertaken in the state.

The Bench constituted a committee consisting of three former judges of high courts, headed by Gita Mittal, former chief justice of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court and comprising Dr Justice Shalini Phansalkar Joshi, former judge of the Bombay High Court and Justice Asha Menon, former judge of the Delhi High Court.

According to the Bench, the committee will have a broad-based mandate to oversee government actions including relief, rehabilitation and compensation for those impacted by the violence.

The committee will also oversee restoration of houses and places of worship. 

These actions will be in addition to the investigation process that the committee will monitor.

On the issue of investigation by the CBI, the Bench proposed to direct deputation of five officers to the CBI of rank not lower than of a deputy superintendent of police from other states to oversee the investigation of the FIRs pertaining to sexual violence against women.

The Bench clarified that the deputed officers, who are conversant in the spoken Hindi language, will be appointed by the DGP of the state and will function within the administrative set up of the CBI.

Such deputation is not meant to supplant the investigation by the CBI, the Bench remarked.

To add another layer of scrutiny, the court appointed Padsalgikar to oversee the nature of the investigation undertaken by the CBI and report to the court. 

About the investigation of over 6,000 FIRs that have not been transferred to the CBI, the Bench directed that, as proposed by the state government, every investigation team will have at least one inspector appointed from any other states, nominated by the DGPs of such states, and sent on deputation to Manipur police by the Union ministry of home affairs.

To ensure that the investigations proceed in order, the Bench also added that each of the 42 SITs shall be under the supervision of six officers of the rank of deputy inspector general of police who are not from Manipur. 

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