The aftermath of the 2020 Delhi violence left few eyewitnesses and weak police investigations as many victims, who fled for their lives, failed to identify the culprits, while police ostensibly remained too busy to maintain diary entries as they tried to contain the mobs. This was the pattern in most cases that saw acquittals in court.
Of the total 757 cases, 28 have resulted in acquittals and discharge so far – Newslaundry analysed the 14 in which 11 men were acquitted, based on court cause lists.
These cases pertained to acts of unlawful assembly, rioting, vandalism, and setting properties and vehicle afire under Gokalpuri, Jyoti Nagar, Welcome, Bhajanpura and Khajuri Khas police stations from February 24 to February 26 in 2020. A total of 119 witnesses, mostly police officers, were examined in the courts of Additional Sessions Judges Pulastya Pramachala, Virender Bhat and Amitabh Rawat.
In many of these cases, the identification of the accused was sudden, diminishing the chance of conviction. In at least seven of the 14 cases, courts objected to police officers’ failure in making DD entries about their entry and exit from police stations, and about law and order incidents. And in at least two other cases, the prosecution failed to examine crucial witnesses.
A special public prosecutor, who is arguing for the Delhi police in several riot cases, told Newslaundry that there was delay on part of beat officers due to the increased work burden and widespread lawlessness.
Former Delhi police commissioner SN Shrivastava said, “Those were challenging times that don’t permit a classical approach. A police person is overburdened with multifarious duties. Maybe, some DD entries were not made under these circumstances. All organs of the criminal enforcement system have to understand these circumstances.”
However, a senior lawyer who works with the Delhi police said that the officers who have witnessed violence or recognised the accused are duty bound to pass on such information orally or in writing to the police station or the SHO. “Following this, the duty officer (who maintains police logs) will make an entry about information received. A sketch of the accused is to be prepared, followed by an identification parade. But this is hardly followed,” he said.
Against this backdrop, the prosecution failed to explain the delay in DD entries and the “coincidental” identification of the accused even though beat officers had seen them at riot-affected areas.
Terming it a “record of truth”, lawyer Mehmood Pracha said the DD entry is mandatory for all officers. “If there is no DD entry, any story can be cooked up later. According to the Punjab Police Rules, all police officers have to make DD entries upon their return to their police station,” he said.
Rules of conduct that are not covered by the Delhi Police Rules are still guided by PPR, including how a police station should operate, said a lawyer.
Section 22.49 (D) of the Punjab Police Rules mandates: “Every police officer of or above the rank of head constable, when returning from duty other than an investigation in which case diaries are submitted, shall have an entry made in the daily diary by the station clerk or his assistant showing the places he has visited and the duties performed by him during his absence from the police station.”
However, a police officer at the Northeast Delhi police headquarters in Seelampur blamed the circumstances. “Our first priority was to bring the situation under control and rescue people. So maybe, DD entries were missed. Second, there was a Covid lockdown immediately after the riots. Some people who were witnesses left for their hometown. This also hampered the investigation. As far as coincidental identification is concerned, it’s not unusual for police to arrest an accused who has been called to the police station in a different case. When we arrest a person, it’s but natural for police to question his involvement in other cases. Once he reveals his involvement in other cases, beat constables and complainants are called for identification.”
Asked about the conviction rate, the officer said it was in line with the overall average. “The mob does not have any face. CCTV cameras – a crucial piece of evidence – were destroyed. This further reduced our evidence options. But the conviction is along the national average.”
Though “coincidental” identification and DD entries may not have been the sole reason for acquittals, it did, in the words of the officer quoted above, “sow seeds of doubt in judges’ mind”.
Former DCP LN Rao said, “DD entries may not be the only crucial piece of evidence, but certainly it is one of the important pieces.”
According to the NCRB data, of the 13,534 rioting cases disposed of by courts, only 2,964 or 21.9 percent resulted in conviction in India last year.
Northeast Delhi DCP Sanjay Kumar Sain could not be reached for comment. An email to Delhi police commissioner Sanjay Arora has remained unanswered. This report will be updated if a response is received.
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Let’s look at some of the 14 cases that saw acquittals.
Judgement date: November 2, 2022
Heard by: ASJ Pulastya Pramachala
A family of three registered a complaint that their shop was ransacked and set on fire by a mob of 100-150 people on February 25 in Khajuri Khas.
During trial, one of the three complainants turned hostile. The court questioned how the remaining complainants and beat constable Rohtash, an eyewitness, identified one Noor as the accused when the latter was brought to the police station in another case on April 2. It also asked why the incident “was not formally recorded anywhere”.
The judge said the identification during a “coincidental visit” – to the police station by the two complainants and the officer while Noor was being questioned in another case – “does not inspire confidence to rely upon the same”.
Citing a 1965 Supreme Court case, Masalti vs State of UP, Pramachala underlined that at least four witnesses should give consistent testimonies against the accused in cases of mob violence.
Judgement date: September 14, 2022
Heard by: ASJ Amitabh Rawat
The case was registered at Jyoti Nagar police station after a house was ransacked and torched by a mob in Ashok Nagar on February 25.
According to prosecution, complainant Shamshad had recognised accused Suraj and Joginder Singh as part of the mob but he did not assert the same in court. Constable Pramod, who was an eyewitness, neither made a diary entry nor informed his seniors about the suspects.
The accused faced multiple FIRs in the police station and were identified by the constable and the complainant the same day a month after the incident. Noting that the sudden identification gave rise to “suspicion”, the court acquitted the men.
They were also acquitted in a similar case on June 7 by the same judge as the only eyewitness, Rajesh, did not appear in court. Rajesh, too, had identified them the same day as Shamshad in the police station, and head constable Ravinder, similar to other cases, had failed to keep any previous record.
Citing Yanob Sheikh alias Gagu vs State of West Bengal, Rawat observed that to prove a case beyond reasonable doubt, evidence produced by prosecution should be qualitative not quantitative.
Judgement date: May 31, 2022
Heard by: ASJ Virender Bhat
Aas Mohammed filed a complaint that his school and four vehicles were set on fire by a mob on February 25 in Karawal Nagar.
Star witness Kalyan Singh, a driver employed by Aas, could not identify the accused, Praveen Giri, in court. Two crucial witnesses, including the informer behind the tip-off and a shop owner who provided CCTV footage, were not examined by the prosecution.
“Therefore, the prosecution has miserably failed to prove the charges against the accused. There is no conclusive evidence on record to suggest that the accused was a member of unlawful assembly on 25.02.2020,” read the court order.
In two similar cases of damage and loot of four shops and a vehicle, the court acquitted Giri of all charges on similar grounds.
Judgement date: April 4, 2022
Heard by: ASJ Virender Bhat
Gyanender’s bakery shop was vandalised and its articles set on fire at Chand Bagh Pulia in Khajuri Khas on February 25, 2020.
During the trial, he turned hostile and did not identify the accused, Noor Mohammed. The court said that it seemed that Noor was arrested in this case on March 21 on the basis of his disclosure statement that he was part of a violent mob in a different case.
The court also wondered why a beat police officer, who was posted in the area, did not inform senior officers until April 2, 2020, about the involvement of Noor.
In the court, the police officer, however, claimed that he had informed the investigation officer around five days after the incident that he could identify four or five rioters, including Noor. The court said that if the IO was informed, he would not have waited till March 31 for identification of the accused.
The court said the manner in which Noor was identified in the Khajuri Khas police station appeared “to be absolutely doubtful and devoid of trustworthiness”. The beat officer identified Noor at the police station when he was being questioned by a police officer over another offence on April 2.
In another case related to the loot and destruction of a tailoring shop and a garment factory, the prosecution could not prove its charges against Noor and shop owner Mohammed Hanif and factory owner Wasim retracted their police statements.
In his verdict on September 19, 2022, ASJ Pulastya Pramachala noted that the coincidental identification of the accused by Hanif and constable Sangram appeared unnatural. He also questioned the delay on part of the investigation officer in examining Sangram even though he knew that the latter was the beat constable at the area concerned.
Judgement date: January 14, 2022
Heard by: ASJ Virender Bhat
Three complaints were filed at Gokalpuri police station over the ransacking and torching of three houses on February 24, 2020.
According to the prosecution, two complainants could not identify the accused, Rohit, as they fled their house seeing a mob of nearly 500, and the third complainant failed to do so in court. Another witness, Rohit’s aunt, turned hostile.
The court observed that no witness saw Rohit commit the crime. As two head constables argued they saw Rohit stand 10 metres away from a mob indulging in arson, the court said his presence “indicated that he was a bystander”.
Rohit was also acquitted in another case related to vandalism and arson of two shops and a house in Gokalpuri. ASJ Pulastya Pramachala, in his verdict on July 17, criticised the police for a “casual” chargesheet – while the incidents took place on February 25, police relied on evidence from the previous day.
Rohit’s lawyer argued that head constable Jahangir Khan did not make any DD entry about either the incidents or the identification of Rohit. The court flagged that the incident took place on February 25 but the police relied on evidence of a day earlier.
Judgement date: January 7, 2022
Heard by: ASJ Virender Bhat
A house and a shop were vandalised and set on fire as a mob of around 250 persons targeted Muslim properties in Gokalpuri on February 26, 2020, according to the prosecution.
Two victims could not identify the accused as they had fled the spot. A head constable and a constable, who were posted in the area, did not make any DD entry about their arrival or departure at the police station on February 25 and 26.
The court objected to their “eerie silence” and noted that none of them “explained the reason which precluded them from disclosing the names of the accused to the IO or to any senior officer” until March 22. The court said that it seemed that the two had “been introduced as eyewitnesses in this case dramatically all of a sudden” on March 22.
Judgement date: July 20, 2021
Heard by: ASJ Amitabh Rawat
This was one of the first cases in which the prosecution failed to prove charges. Asif complained that his TV repair shop was vandalised and looted by a mob on Main Babarpur Road on February 25.
However, his landlord Bhagat Singh retracted his statement in the court that he had identified Suresh alias Bhatura. What further weakened the case was a delay on part of head constable Sunil – who was called to the spot by Bhagat Singh – in reporting the incident to the Welcome police station or making a DD entry.
The court noted that while Sunil argued that he had identified Suresh at the time of rioting, he did not record any entry on the date or when the FIR was filed on February 28. He “also never gave anything in writing” to the police station concerned until March 1. The judge wondered why this was the case even when Suresh was declared as a “bad character” and known to most police officers in the area.
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