The bench comprising the Chief Justice of India, U.U.Lalit, and Justice Bela M. Trivedi took up the hearing of the 10-year old case today after the last hearing on May 12. For the CJI, this was the last opportunity to hear the case, listed before him, after he had last heard it along with the former presiding Judge, Justice Madan B. Lokur on September 28, 2018. The Lokur-Lalit bench had been taking a tough line against Union Government’s attempts to dilute the probe, and the hearing of the case went before other benches, after Justice Lokur’s retirement in 2018. Today, despite the reservations expressed by the petitioners and the Amicus Curiae, Dr. Menaka Guruswamy citing inadequate investigation, the Lalit-Trivedi bench granted permission to members of the SIT to attend to other office work.
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A division bench of the Supreme Court listed for final disposal the petitions filed in 2012 to probe 1,528 alleged extra-judicial killings in Manipur between 2000 and 2012, on November 15. The bench comprised Chief Justice of India U.U. Lalit and Justice Bela M. Trivedi.
In 2017, another division bench of the court, comprising Justice Madan B. Lokur and then Justice Lalit, had set up a Special Investigation Team (‘SIT’) to probe the alleged extra-judicial executions.
At the hearing in the matter earlier today, the Additional Solicitor General of India (‘ASG’) Aishwarya Bhati informed the bench that the status of the SIT’s investigation had been shared with the court in a sealed cover. She informed that chargesheets had been filed in 19 cases, closure reports filed in 18 more, and sanction to prosecute sought from the government in two cases.
The ASG requested the court to be allowed to grant the SIT additional work, and assured it that in most of the cases, investigation is completed and trial is underway.
Petitioners’ senior advocate Colin Gonsalves and Amicus Curiae, Dr. Menaka Guruswamy, countered by submitting that investigation had concluded in only ten per cent of the cases, and that 62 incidents involving between 655 and 1,000 cases of extra-judicial executions remained pending. Gonsalves also argued that the ASG’s request for giving the SIT additional work was a “polite way of saying” that it be “disband[ed]”.
The ASG responded by telling the bench that this court had only directed that not every single allegation needed to be enquired into.
Both the sides referred to the 2017 judgment of the court in the course of their submissions. The ASG contended that as per the 2017 judgment, only certain sets of the allegations were allocated to the SIT to be investigated, and that subject to the court’s directions, the SIT’s work with regard to those investigating those cases was complete. She submitted that in all, final reports had been filed in 18 matters.
On the other hand, Gonsalves and Dr. Guruswamy contended that the sets of allegations probed by the SIT was only part of the work allocated to it by the Supreme Court, and that the rest of its tasks remained incomplete. They also averred that even in respect of the sets of allegations the ASG claims were allocated to the SIT, investigations have not been completed.
The bench remarked that in the 2017 judgment, the cases were segregated on the basis of whether the allegations had something concrete available on record or not, and were accordingly allocated to the SIT. However, the petitioners pointed out, this didn’t preclude the possibility of new material subsequently coming on record, necessitating investigation of the other allegations as well.
Ultimately, the bench granted permission to allot additional work to the SIT in the interim, as well as granting voluntary early retirement to one of the SIT members.
Gonsalves submitted that on the matter of grant of sanction, certain cases are pending before the Manipur High Court, and requested the high court to decide them within six months. The Supreme Court was amenable to this averment, directing the high court to do the same.
The case, Extra Judicial Execution Victim & ANR versus Union of India, (Writ Petition (Criminal) No.129/2012) has had several twists and turns. During the last hearing of the case on May 12, the CBI had sought permission to let members of the SIT to attend to other office work, in addition to its own. The petitioners had opposed it then as the officers were not able to conclude the pending investigations. The bench, comprising the then CJI, N.V.Ramana and Justices J.K.Maheshwari and Hima Kohli, was told that 655 incidents had not been taken up, and only in 39 incidents, the investigation had been completed. The CBI’s counsel, ASG Bhati had then told the bench that the SIT had filed nine status reports, 39 fresh FIRs in 39 separate incidents, and charge-sheets filed in 30 cases and in the remaining nine cases, sanction for prosecution was awaited.