Saturday, November 17, 2007

HC Verdict on the Massacre of 14th March

The Telegraph

Shot down: firing story
- March 14 Nandigram mob not provocative to justify bullets, says HC

Calcutta, Nov. 16: The situation in Nandigram on March 14 was not provocative enough to warrant police firing in which 14 people died, Calcutta High Court has observed in a judgment that termed the action “wholly unconstitutional”.

The conclusion — possibly based on a preliminary CBI report saying the police shot to kill, not to scatter — suggests skilled crowd management could have averted the chain of events that triggered the gravest crisis in Bengal in recent memory.

The 172-page judgment punches holes in the government’s version of events, lengthening its list of woes in the middle of a fresh furore over Nandigram and before it could recover from the loss of face in the Rizwanur Rahman case.

The mob at Nandigram had not prevented the police from carrying out their duties, the court said while stepping up the size and sweep of compensation announced by the government. (See chart)

The judgment also cleared the haze over the number of casualties in the police firing by putting the toll at 14 — one of whom remains unidentified — and the injured at 162.

Government officials and politicians have been saying off and on that some victims had died of “various causes”, implying that bombs hurled or bullets fired by the mob itself could have killed them. But the judgment mentions “police firing” and “indiscriminate police firing” in which 14 “innocent villagers” died.

Another government claim — that the crowd was armed — has also not been borne out by the ruling.

State advocate-general Balai Ray later said four women were raped on March 14. The judgment does not mention the four incidents but it has specified compensation for victims of rape. All payments should be made within a month from today.

A division bench of Chief Justice S.S. Nijjar and Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose said in the judgement that the intention of the police seemed “to be to crush the demonstration rather than to control or disperse an unlawful assembly”.

“Also, the court does not accept that it is permissible to indiscriminately open fire to control the crowd…. The firing cannot be justified under any provision of the law.”

The judges said there was nothing to prove that the crowd was posing such a danger or threat to the police that the force had to open fire. There was “not enough provocation”.

They said confusion prevailed over who gave the order to open fire on a crowd that was unarmed. “The action of the police cannot be justified on the ground of sovereign immunity either.”

In the preliminary report to the court, the CBI is learnt to have said the police had violated regulations and had opened fire not to scare away the crowd but to kill. The police should have first opened fire in the air and then shot at the legs instead of firing indiscriminately, the report has apparently said.

The court gave liberty to the CBI to register cases against the accused, including the police, and start criminal proceedings.

CBI sources in Delhi said it would not be easy to pick up the threads eight months after submitting the preliminary report.

The court said it was legally justified in asking the CBI to conduct a preliminary investigation on the basis of media reports and the statement issued by the governor expressing “cold horror”.

The state had challenged the authority of the court to order a CBI inquiry on the basis of the governor’s statement. But the court said it was within its jurisdiction to seek a CBI probe without taking the consent of the state government.

Ray’s prayer for staying the operation of the order for at least three weeks was rejected.

Asked whether the government would approach the Supreme Court, Ray said: “I have advised the government to move an appeal. The high court cannot ask for a CBI probe without taking prior permission from the state government. This issue is pending before a larger bench of the Supreme Court.”

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee did not comment but CPM leader Benoy Konar asked: “Do they expect the police to contain rowdies by spraying Gangajal and reading out the Gita to them?”

The Statesman

Firing wholly unjustified: HC

Our Legal Correspondent
KOLKATA, Nov. 16: Delivering judgment in the Nandigram killings case today, Calcutta High Court held that police firing there on 14 March in which 14 people had been killed was wholly unjustified and violative of Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) of the Constitution.
The Division Bench of the Chief Justice, Mr SS Nijjar and Mr Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose which passed the order stated that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry into the Nandigram incident will continue and asked the investigating agency to submit a comprehensive report to it within a month.
The court rejected all the arguments of the state government and did not accede to a state government plea to stay the implementation of its judgment.

The state government was directed to pay Rs 5 lakh to the kin of each person killed in the indiscriminate police firing, Rs 1 lakh to each injured person and Rs 2 lakh to each of the rape victims who have been duly identified. The compensation, the court directed, should be paid within one month.
The Bench stated that the action of the police on 14 March cannot be justified on the grounds of sovereign immunity. The Advocate-General’s argument claiming immunity for police action on such occasion is not acceptable, the court held.
The police action cannot be justified even under the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code, the Police Act, 1861, or the Police Regulations, 1943. It is ultra vires Articles 14,19 and 21 of the Constitution of India, the court further held.
The judgment stated that 14 persons had been killed in the police firing in Nandigram and 162 persons had been injured.
The court also noted the details of rape of women. It directed the state government to pay compensation to all those who suffered in accordance with the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court.

The Bench stated that it was justified in taking suo motu notice of the wholly indefensible incident of police firing at Nandigram on 14 March on the basis of newspaper reports and the statement made by the Governor.
The state Advocate-General’s submission that the Governor’s statement cannot be taken into consideration in view of the statement made by the chief minister in the Assembly is not acceptable.

The court observed that during the hearing of the Nandigram matters, interim directions had been issued on a number of occasions. It was, however, brought to the notice of the court that the state government had failed miserably to carry out these directions.
Even in cases in which the directions were implemented, it was done in a manner which resulted in little benefit to the people who were sought to be benefited. “We, therefore, direct the state government to implement all the directions issued by this court on 15 March, 2 May and 3 May, 2007.”

The court stated it had no hesitation in directing the CBI to continue the inquiry. Earlier, on 15 March, the court had directed the CBI to collect all relevant material about the Nandigram incident. The CBI had submitted a report to the High Court on 22 March.
Now, it was held, the CBI is directed to conduct a thorough and detailed investigation and submit a comprehensive report to the court within one month.
The report should clearly set out the crimes that have been committed against any individual. The victims should be identified. The offenders should be identified. The report should state whether any departmental action or criminal proceedings have been initiated against any individuals or officers who have transgressed any provision of law.
The CBI is directed to take necessary steps before appropriate courts of law ~ (including) registration and initiation of criminal proceedings in accordance with law, it was further held. The Advocate-General, Mr Balai Ray, made a prayer that the operation of the judgment be stayed for three weeks. The court refused to accede to the prayer.
After the judgment was delivered, the Advocate-General told reporters that he would advise the state government to prefer an appeal against the judgment to the Supreme Court. The appeal will question whether without the consent of the state government the CBI can inquire into any criminal case. This matter, Mr Ray said, had been referred to a larger Bench of the Supreme Court and was pending before that larger Bench. The state government had filed an affidavit justifying the police firing in Nandigram. The government had then also ordered an administrative inquiry.


Bhooter Raja said...

It is strange to see that the High Court has also accepted 14 as the number of people dead and has stated that only 4 women were raped.