A three-judge Bench led by the Chief Justice of India Dr D.Y. Chandrachud considered the issue of connectivity and infrastructure in allowing trials in Assam. The Bench also passed certain procedural directions concerning the functioning of the expert committee formed earlier to oversee the humanitarian measures in Manipur.
ON Friday, the Supreme Court directed the trials pertaining to the violence in Manipur to be conducted in Assam, allowing victim and witness statements to be recorded virtually.
A three-judge Bench led by the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dr D.Y. Chandrachud and also comprising Justices J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Mishra heard the Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta’s suggestions and petitioner’s concerns on conducting the criminal proceedings in Assam.
The Bench also passed certain procedural directions to facilitate the functioning of the three-member committee of former judges of high courts constituted to oversee humanitarian measures in violence-hit Manipur.
Mehta put forth a proposal of designating judges from the magistrate level and sessions level in Assam to hear the 27 cases transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation.
Mehta submitted that conducting trials in Assam will allow maximum connectivity from Manipur and ensure the necessary infrastructure to conduct the trials.
Mehta also proposed that the production of the accused persons and the recording of the witness statements under Section164 (recording of confessions and statements) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973, be conducted virtually.
Several petitioners raised objections against the shifting of trial.
Conduct trials where victims reside
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing on behalf of the petitioners, Manipur Tribal Forum Delhi, contended that trials should be conducted in the hill areas of Manipur, where the victims reside.
To this contention of Gonsalves, the CJI pointed out that the victims are residing in both the hills and the valleys of Manipur.
“We are not [having a discussion] on who suffered more,” the CJI remarked.
Meiteis live in the Imphal valley in the centre of the state. Naga tribes live in the hills in the north and Kuki tribes live in the hills in the south.
Indira Jaising recommended other states to hold trial
Senior advocate Indira Jaising, appearing on behalf of Mahua Moitra, member of Lok Sabha from the Krishnanagar constituency in West Bengal, suggested holding the trial in other proximate states such as Meghalaya and Mizoram.
In response to Jaising’s suggestion, the CJI remarked that travelling to Guwahati from Manipur would be more convenient than the other mentioned states.
Further, Jaising indicated that some witnesses might want to travel in person to record their statements, which means they will have to travel to Assam.
To this, Mehta underlined the concern of safety of the travelling witnesses, which would have to be ensured by the Manipur government.
While allowing such physical presence on the wish of the witnesses, the Bench observed that its directions will not operate to preclude any witness from appearing in person before a judge in Guwahati.
Nizam Pasha contentions on language barrier
Advocate Nizam Pasha, appearing on behalf of the Zomi Students Federation, raised concerns about the language barrier if the trial were to be conducted in Assam.
The Bench directed the Chief Justice of Gauhati High Court to select judges who are conversant in languages widely spoken in Manipur.
Pasha also raised concerns about the difficulties that may accrue when conducting trials virtually since the internet has not been fully restored in Manipur.
To this, the Bench sought Mehta’s confirmation that the state government will ensure proper internet connectivity to facilitate the proceedings in Assam.
The Bench directed the trial to be conducted in Assam until the situation in violence-hit Manipur improves.
In its oral Order, the Bench directed the chief justice of Gauhati High Court to nominate one or more officers of the chief magistrate and the session judge in Guwahati.
In consideration of the distance and security issues, the Bench noted that applications for the production of accused, remand, judicial custody and other proceedings in connection with the investigation are to be heard virtually.
The Bench also directed the judicial custody of the accused persons to continue in Manipur.
The Bench gave instructions that statements under Section I64 of the CrPC are to be recorded in the presence of a local magistrate in Manipur or at the place where witnesses reside outside Manipur.
The acting Chief Justice of the Manipur High Court has been directed to designate one or more magistrates to record statements of witnesses under Section 164 of CrPC.
While observing that holding test identification parades (TIPs) was not feasible, the Bench directed for TIPs to be conducted in the presence of a Manipur-based magistrate.
The Bench also instructed that the applications seeking arrest warrants are to be sought by the investigating officer virtually.
Procedural directions for the committee
In order to oversee the humanitarian measures to be undertaken in Manipur, on August 7, the Bench had 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.
The committee has been given a broad-based mandate to oversee government actions— including relief, rehabilitation and compensation for those impacted by the violence.
Today, in addition to the committee’s three reports, two more were placed before the court.
Jaising raised the need for judicial directions to facilitate the committee’s travel to visit the relief camps in Manipur.
Consequently, the court perused the suggestions collated by senior advocate Vrinda Grover, appearing for the organisation Women in Governance, in consultation with the committee.
The Bench accepted certain suggestions of the committee concerning infrastructural, administrative, personnel and financial allocations for the effective functioning of the expert committee.
Recommendations on appointment of experts and a few other suggestions will be considered by the Bench on next date.
The Bench directed Mehta to take instructions on the list of experts suggested by the committee.
The matter is posted for further hearing on September 1.