By Ishita Purkaystha
For the second consecutive week, routine work in the various district courts in the capital has been paralysed as lawyers continued their strike, forcing several important cases involving high profile litigants to be adjourned.
Four such cases that got shifted to later dates this month are:
- Criminal defamation complaint against Rahul Gandhi, filed by Advocate Joginder Tuli for his alleged ‘khoon ki dalali’ remark in 2016 against PM Narendra Modi. Mr. Gandhi had publicly accused the Prime Minister of hiding behind the blood of soldiers and cashing in on their sacrifice.
- Christian Michel’s application in CBI court accusing CBI and ED officials for searching his belongings without a court’s permission during the visit of a British counselor in Tihar.
- Criminal defamation complaint against Shashi Tharoor by Rajiv Babbar when the latter had sparked a controversy while delivering a speech at the Bangalore Literature Festival and claimed that an unnamed RSS leader told him that “Mr Modi is like a scorpion sitting on a Shivling. You cannot move it with your hand, and you cannot hit it with a chappal (slipper) either.”
- An order of the court is due on summoning of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and three AAP MLAs on a defamation complaint by BJP leader Karan Singh Tanwar for accusing him of being involved in the murder of M M Khan an NDMC official.
The capital has seen the occasional clash between those entrusted with maintaining law and order and lawyers but the recent confrontation that erupted at the Tis Hazari court on November 3 was quite unprecedented. Trouble erupted when a lawyer was asked to move his vehicle from outside the police post. He ignored the request and what followed was mayhem, with both sides indulging in unruly acts in which bullets were fired, injuring a lawyer after which it became a free for all. While both sides seem equally to blame, based on videos posted on social media, the bigger issue is that it has created a huge trust deficit between the two professions, so vital to the functioning of any major city. It turned more serious when police personnel, along with their families, thronged the Delhi Police Headquarters on November 5 with placards like “Protectors need Protection” and “I sleep alone so, you can sleep safe.” The protest carried on for 11 hours.
Also among the chants were “Kiran Bedi lao, Delhi Police Bachao” when Commissioner of Police Amulya Patnaik asked the protesters to maintain peace. The then DCP Kiran Bedi, currently Lt Governor of Puducherry, had been instrumental for supporting police action of lathi-charging the advocates in 1988 who protested the handcuffing of one of their own on apprehension of theft. She took to twitter and posted: “Leadership is a ‘Character’ that takes responsibility and takes tough decisions. It is a ‘life’ of ‘doing’… Tough times go, Memories of Tough Acts Remain.” Another tweet from her said: “Rights and Responsibilities are two sides of the same coin. We as citizens must never forget this. Whoever and wherever we be. We need a major shift in our emphasis in this regard. When we all exercise our responsibility of being law abiding there is no conflict.”
Post-November 5 protest, the Bar Council of India (BCI) issued a statement on November 6 in solidarity with the lawyers’ cause, stating that the police protest is unbecoming of the democratic fabric of India and abstinence of police from duty for such long hours was “gross misconduct and dereliction of their duties.” With extreme demands being sought by the policemen, the advocate body could not stay as a mute spectator. BCI, in its statement to the fraternity, said, “Our demand is to arrest the guilty police officials within a period of one week, failing which we shall resort to peaceful dharnas for the arrest of these people and for proper disciplinary action against them. The Bar stands united.”
It also pointed out the politics playing in these agitations, so much so that the entire police protest could be politically orchestrated. With Commissioner Amulya Patnaik’s one foot out of the door (his tenure ends on January 31, 2020), and the bar association elections round the corner, as also the state elections knocking our doors, it adds another dimension to the confrontation.
Questioning the veracity of the videos that surfaced in social media regarding lawyers at Saket attacking the lone policeman, BCI Chairman Manan Mishra, in a statement said, “The video of the Saket incident, even if taken to be true, shows it to be a case of simple hurt under Section 323 IPC, but the police has added the offence of dacoity under Section 392. This is the conduct of police today. They are the law-breakers. We shall make our submission before High Court today and will abide by the judicial verdict.”
News agency ANI shared on twitter a legal notice by a Supreme Court advocate Varun Thakur that was apparently served on the Commissioner of Police for inaction on the illegal demonstration of police personnel. The Police Forces (Restriction of Rights) Act, 1966, prohibits the police forces to participate in any demonstration or communicate with the press for their own demands. The intent behind such restriction is to not let foreign or anti-national elements exploit the weaknesses or prejudices of the protectors of the nation.
The Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, 1964, too prevent government servants from engaging in activities that tantamount to strike. The legal notice, however, has not stated this ground.
A writ petition has been filed by Advocate Rakesh Kumar Lakra in the Delhi High Court alleging inaction by the State in the illegal police protest, the outcome of which will be known to us eventually.
The initial “scuffle”, the court’s order and the viral video of the Saket court incident were triggers for what could be a serious rift between the two sides. On top of that was the issue of the lower ranks in the police taking on their seniors, in full media glare. The protest was less against the action of lawyers and more about the inaction of the senior personnel in empathizing with the cause of the lower constabulary.
Lawyers and police are meant to gell seamlessly so that a rational criminal justice system can thrive. It is unfathomable what might happen if the edges are not evened out sooner rather than later. What the Bar Council of India stated in its November 5 letter about maintaining peace and harmony is what the Delhi police chief too repeated during the ongoing protest.
The Delhi High Court also advised on holding a joint meeting of responsible representatives, which was endorsed by Delhi’s Lt. Governor Anil Baijal in his remark. He said that it was imperative to restore trust between the police and lawyers. The sooner that happens, the easier Delhi’s citizen’s can sleep at night.