SC sets up inquiry into PM’s security breach, amid anonymous callers’ threats against its intervention and the fracas between the Centre and the Punjab government

THE Supreme Court on Monday agreed to appoint a retired judge of the Supreme Court to inquire into the Prime Minister’s security breach during his visit to Punjab last week. The probe panel will also comprise the Registrar General of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, Director-General of Police, Chandigarh and Inspector General, National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the Intelligence Bureau (IB).

The Court did not name the retired judge in the open court, and the order mentioning his name is yet to be uploaded.

The  bench comprising the Chief Justice of India (CJI) N.V. Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli passed the order in the part-heard petition filed by the NGO, ‘Lawyer’s Voice’ urging the Court to take cognisance of the “serious and deliberate” lapse on the part of the state government regarding the security of the Prime Minister.

On January 5, while on his way to address a political rally in Ferozepur, PM Narendra Modi was stuck on a flyover in Punjab’s Bathinda for around 20 minutes. The security lapse has caused a major political conflagration between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the state’s ruling Indian National Congress.

On January 7, the bench directed the Registrar General of the Punjab and Haryana High Court to forthwith seize and secure the records pertaining to the visit and security arrangement of the PM.

When the matter came up for hearing on Monday, D.S. Patwalia, the Advocate General (AG) for Punjab Government complained to the bench regarding the seven show-cause notices from the Central Government to the Chief Secretary and the Director-General Police regarding the acts of “omission” and “commission” and asking them to respond to the notice by January 8, failing which disciplinary proceedings would be initiated against them.

Patwalia contended that the show cause notices presumed and premeditated everything against the state government and thus the Court should appoint an independent commission to probe the matter as the state government does not have any faith in the committee of the Centre.

“I am saying again and again. If I am guilty please hang my officials but don’t condemn me unheard”, Patwalia argued.

Defending the show cause notices, the Solicitor General(SG) Tushar Mehta, for the Central Government, referred to the provisions of the Special Protection Group Act, and the Blue Book- a document which lays down security guidelines for the protection of the Prime Minister- to contend that the notices to the Chief Secretary and the DGP are a separate cause of action and they have nothing to do with the inquiry by the committee appointed by the Central Government.

Mehta read out from the Blue Book that it is for the State and the Union Territories to make all the protective arrangements required for the security and safety of the Prime Minister, while the SPG shall provide proximate protection to the PM. The SPG also communicates the PM’s tour programmes and engagement to the agencies concerned. Director, SPG or his nominee will be the Chief Security Liaison Officer (CSLO) during the tours of PM.

Mehta added that the implementation of these rules will be the responsibility of the Director-General/Inspector General of Police of State/UT assisted by the Inspector General of Police/DIG(CID)/intelligence/security) and/or the Commissioner of police in case cities have such a commissioner.

He submitted that the PM’s travel to Punjab was not unscheduled and the DGP was intimated in advance that due to weather issues, PM would travel possibly by route also. He added on January 4, a recce of the same route was done without the protectee to ensure that the route is scanned and mapped.

Unimpressed with the stand of the Centre, Justice Hima Kohli remarked “what’s the point of asking the court to examine the matter if the Centre wanted to go ahead on its own ”? Justice Kohli reminded SG Mehta how he on Friday agreed to the PIL for taking judicial note of PM’s security breach. When SG insisted on going ahead with the Centre’s panel to probe the matter, Justice Kohli observed, likewise, the state panel can also go ahead.

SG Mehta sought to submit that the Centre’s panel be allowed to go ahead with the probe and its report would be submitted before the Court for necessary action. The judges after conferring with each other suggested the appointment of a retired Supreme Court judge to head the probe.

The Central Government on January 6 formed a committee comprising Sudhir Kumar Saxena, Secretary(Security) Cabinet Secretariat, Balbir Singh, Joint Director, IB and S. Suresh Kumar, IG, SPG to inquire into the “security lapses” during PM’s visit to Punjab. The Punjab government objected to the presence of IG, SPG,  as according to it, his own role is under question over the security arrangement. Though SG Mehta offered IG, SPG’s replacement by a DG level officer, the Court anyway went ahead forming a committee headed by a retired SC judge.

Last week, the state government also formed a committee comprising retired high court judge, justice Mehtab Singh Gill, and principal secretary, home affairs and justice Anurag Verma to probe the matter.

The bench made it clear that both the committees – appointed by the Centre and the state government – should stop functioning to enable the SC-appointed committee to inquire and submit its report within a specified time frame.  The bench decided to intervene despite its reluctance to do so, in the face of Centre’s less than convincing explanation why it issued show-cause notices to Punjab officials responsible for PM’s security.

Soon after the hearing was concluded by the court, reports emerged that many Advocates-on-Record (AoRs) practicing before the Supreme Court had received an automated call at around 10.40 am today from an anonymous number from the United Kingdom taking responsibility for the alleged security breach of the PM’s convoy and also warning the judges of the top court to refrain from hearing the plea seeking probe into the security breach.

In the latest development, the  Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record (SCAORA) Association has written to the Secretary-General of the Supreme Court and the Delhi Police Commissioner to initiate against anonymous callers.