Supreme Court blasts Manipur police for “lethargic” and “tardy” investigations

Suggests several measures to bring “the war of different dimension” under control

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 noted the “complete breakdown of law and order” in Manipur and summoned the director general of police of the state to the next hearing.

ON Tuesday, the Supreme Court of India 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.

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 perused 11 first information reports (FIRs) lodged in Manipur from May 4, in respect of violence against women and children, as per official records.

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

On Monday, the Bench had examined a series of petitions and intervention applications on the constitution of a special investigation team (SIT) and other high-powered commissions to facilitate justice for the sexual assault and violence committed against women in Manipur.

The Bench had directed the government to file its reply to the court’s queries including the categorisation of the 6,000-odd FIRs lodged in the state into various categories such as rape, murder, arson, bodily harm and burning of homes; the number of ‘zero’ FIRs that have been filed and the number of FIRs transferred to the police stations of territorial jurisdiction.

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

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 Central Bureau of Investigation (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.

On Tuesday, Advocate Nizam Pasha, appearing on behalf of the petitioner Zomi Students Federation, apprised the court that the CBI had started the investigation by approaching the victims of sexual violence.

Pasha prayed to the Bench to stay such an investigation that requires the victims to repeat the harrowing incidents. 

No law and order

As per the directions given by the Bench yesterday, the Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Union and Manipur governments, submitted a status report.

The report presented official statistics regarding the ongoing violence stating that 6,530 FIRs had been registered as on July 25, 150 deaths have been recorded, 502 persons have been injured, 252 persons have been arrested by the local police and over 12,000 persons have been taken into preventive detention.

Mehta delved into the details of the status of the investigation of 11 cases of sexual violence— a number arrived at by the government after a preliminary analysis and subject to verification.

Mehta submitted that the “situation is coming back to normal”.

The Bench looked into each of the 11 cases— the dates of registration of zero and regular FIRs, the date of recording the victims’ statement and the number of accused persons arrested.

Mehta stated that seven arrests have been made in connection with the 11 cases.

Perusing the details, the CJI remarked that the investigation by the local police has been “lethargic” and “tardy”. He noted that complaints were registered two months after the incidents, statements made by the victims were recorded considerably late and the arrests made, in a case or two, are “few and far between”.

In view of the “considerable lapse” between the occurrence of the incidents, registration of FIRs, recording of statements of witnesses and arrests of accused persons, the CJI remarked that there had been a “complete breakdown of constitutional machinery and of law and order”.

The CJI also berated the state police, describing it as incapable of carrying out investigations. 

If the law and state machinery has not been functioning, what is left for the people [to protect them]?” he lamented.

The Bench also took note of the fact that from May 4 to July 27, the local police was “incapable or unwilling” to take action against the perpetrators in respect of the FIRs lodged.

In reference to the statement of the two victims whose viral video has brought renewed focus on the Manipur crisis, the CJI asked Mehta whether any arrests of the police officials involved had been made.

The two victims, in a statement recorded under Section 161 (examination of witnesses by police) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) have alleged that they were handed over to the mob by the police.

The CJI enquired of Mehta whether the director general of police of Manipur had taken cognisance of the involvement of police in sexual violence against the women and conducted any interrogation of the accused police personnel.

In response to such queries, Mehta sought time to collect the necessary information.

Mehta apprised the court that the CBI can handle all 11 reported complaints of violence against women and children, as per a preliminary analysis.

Myanmar infiltrators

Emphasising the reason for the ongoing violence in Manipur, senior advocate Ranjit Kumar contended that the states in the Northeast are witnessing an influx of Myanmar infiltrators.

Kumar submitted that the report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes as well as a warning letter from the government of Myanmar shows the occurrence of such infiltration.

To this contention of Kumar, the CJI replied that the “people who are raped and murdered in Manipur are our people”.

Mehta stated to the court that most dead bodies in the state are of infiltrators.

Directions of the court

Noting the inadequacy of the material before the court on account of the lack of categorisation of the 6,523 FIRs, the Bench directed the state government to conduct the exercise of disaggregation of the FIRs and inform the court of the number of FIRs that pertain to murder and rape, outraging modesty, arson and looting, destruction of houses, destruction of places of worship, and grievous hurt.

On the basis of such categorisation, the Bench directed the government to submit a tabulated statement setting out the date of occurrences of the offences; the date of registration of ‘zero FIRs’; the date on which witness statements were recorded; the date on which statements under Section 164 (recording of confessions and statements) of the CrPC, if any, were recorded; the date of medical examination of the victims of sexual violence; and the number of accused arrested in each of the FIRs.

It also directed the analysis of each FIR to ascertain whether they contain the names of the accused persons.

On the submission of senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, representing the petitioner Manipur Tribals’ Forum, that 118 bodies of people of the Kuki-Zo tribal community remain unidentified in morgues, the Bench directed Mehta to submit data on the total number of dead bodies identified in the state.

The court asked Mehta to inquire with the government on the provision of compensation to those affected and to report to the court the proposed mechanism of quantification and disbursement of compensation, as well as of identifying beneficiaries.

The court insisted on the disclosure of full data on the above-mentioned aspects to analyse trends and take appropriate actions.

In view of the lack of capability of the local police to conduct the investigations into the complaints and inadequacy of the CBI’s infrastructure to investigate over 6,000 FIRs, the Bench directed Mehta to take instructions from the government on the court’s proposal to constitute a committee of former judges to ensure a fair pre-investigation process and to supervise the relief and rehabilitation measures undertaken by the government.

Pasha submitted that the 11 FIRs pertaining to violence against women and children failed to include five more complaints. Senior advocate Jaideep Gupta sought the addition of one more complaint. The Bench directed Mehta to analyse the cases and include them in the list.

The Bench also directed the director general of police, Manipur, to remain personally present in court on the next day of the hearing.

At the request of the Attorney General of India R. Venkataramani, who referred to the situation in Manipur as “deeply disturbing” and a “war of a different dimension”, and at Mehta’s request to allow time to collect information, the matter has been posted for further hearing on August 7.

Click here to read the order.

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