“They say a picture is worth a thousand words and a video is worth a thousand pictures. Police seem to be in a state of inscrutable indolence in collection of relevant video footage. The indolence is a cause of concern as evidence in criminal matters is invariably ephemeral in nature,” Additional Sessions Judge Dharmender Rana was stern when observing the Delhi Police’s delay in the matter.
ASJ Rana made the observations while extending the judicial custody of Pinjra Tod activists Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal, and former Congress municipal councillor Ishrat Jahan till August 14, reported the Indian Express. They are being investigated by the Delhi Police Special Cell in a UAPA case pertaining to the Delhi riots.
The video footage is essential evidence in the investigations into the North East Delhi riots case from the Jafrabad and Maujpur Metro stations area. And even though considerable time has passed the courts have been told that the Delhi Police is yet to seize or preserve relevant video footage from cameras installed at the location, nor have they collected photographs from photographers covering the events.
According to a report in the Indian Express, the court has stressed upon “the importance of the video footage as a piece of evidence in the case.” Additional Sessions Judge Dharmender Rana has also asked the DCP concerned to personally monitor the probe and ensure that the “sterling image of Delhi Police remains blemish-free, and the flow of the course of justice remains unsullied” reported the IE.
Delhi Police had arrested Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal of the feminist collective Pinjra Tod for allegedly taking part in anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests at Jaffrabad in February. Kalita and Narwal, both belong to the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), an institution which along with the Jamia Millia Islamia University has seen the wrath of the Delhi police and central government for fighting for their rights – be it protests against hike in fees, hostel curfews for women or opposing the CAA.
The anti-Muslim riots raged through multiple areas of North East Delhi between February 23 and 27 before they was finally controlled. It is a matter of record, and once again confirmed by the Delhi Minorities Commission report that the communal violence started “almost immediately after” the volatile hate speech by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politician Kapil Mishra on February 23, 2020 at Maujpur.
As seen in a video clip that soon went viral Mishra had said that the peaceful protestors at Jafrabad in North East Delhi will be forcefully removed and that he and his supporters will take matters into their own hands. Mishra was seen and heard in the video clip as saying, “We will not listen to the police if roads are not cleared after three days…” The Deputy Commissioner of Police North East district, Shri Ved Prakash Surya, was also seen standing right next to Kapil Mishra when he said those words.
However, as noted in the DMC report, the Delhi Police did not stop him, leave alone apprehend or arrest Kapil Mishra and those who cheered his hate speech. This DMC report states that this indicates that the Delhi Police “failed to take the first and most immediate preventive step needed to avoid violence from arising and protect life and property.”
The report is based on multiple testimonies collected by the fact finding teams where each survivor has shared reports of police inaction, even as they kept calling emergency numbers, and seeking help from the police patrolling the area. The police “refused saying they had no orders to act,” said the citizens. This fact finding team has stated, “The failure to prevent violence was not due to individual or sporadic breaches, but was a pattern of deliberate inaction over several days. The Delhi Police failed to exercise its prohibitory powers, under the Delhi Police Act, 1978 which enable the Commissioner of Police to promulgate orders prohibiting the carrying of weapons and arms, and the assembly of persons as “necessary for the preservation of public order”.”
The DMC report added, “Prohibitory orders were either not enforced, or were only in name with no public notification. Police also did not exercise powers to disperse unlawful assemblies110, or take measures to apprehend, arrest and detain those perpetrating violence.” In multiple cases the team found that the police delayed to register FIRs when victims of violence came to them. The victims have said that “FIRs have either been delayed or have not been acted upon.”
Now, the court, during the course of arguments on the plea by Kalita for a court-monitored probe, noted that the investigating officer had said that the police were in the process of collecting relevant video footage, including from Metro stations and photographers engaged by police. However, that has not been done yet.
According to the IE report the court recorded, “Regretfully, ACP Hriday Bushan and inspector Anil Kumar have failed to point out the seizure of the relevant video footage.”. It added that police failed to show if any request/notice was served upon Metro officials for preservation of video footage, so as to save important footage.
“This is not the task of this court to direct police as to how and what evidence is required to be collected. However, this court is duty bound to ensure a fair investigation,” it added.
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