SC's ex-judge to probe PM’s security lapses in Punjab

KT NEWS SERVICE. Dated: 1/13/2022 8:45:21 PM

NEW DELHI, Jan 12: Former Supreme Court judge Indu Malhotra heads a 5-member independent inquiry committee set up on Wednesday by the Supreme Court to probe the security breach during Prime Minister Modi's official visit to Ferozepur district in Punjab on January 5 when his convoy was stuck on a flyover, barely a few km away from Pakistan border.

"We are of the opinion that these questions can't be left to one sided inquiry," Chief Justice of India N V Ramana said, reading out from the court's order, two days after the Court decided to conduct the probe itself.

Justice Indu Malhotra, who was a Supreme Court judge from April 2018 to March 2021, had her education in Delhi and practised in Delhi. She was appointed the judge directly from the bar in 2018. Others in the inquiry committee are: Director General of National Investigation Agency (NIA) or his nominee who is not below the rank of an Inspector General, the Director General of Police of the Union Territory of Chandigarh, Additional Director General of Police (Security) of Punjab and the Registrar General of Punjab and Haryana High Court.

Without fixing any time limit for completing the probe, the order said the committee should submit its report at the earliest. The court's constitution of this high-profile committee effectively arrests the functioning of the separate panels formed by Punjab and the Centre to investigate the breach. The court had earlier got the Punjab and Haryana High Court's Registrar General seize the security records in connection with the incident.

The committee's terms of reference include causes of the breach, assessing who was responsible for the security breach and to what extent, what remedial measures and safeguards are necessary to prevent a similar lapse, and further suggestions for security of constitutional functionaries.

In his order, the CJI said: "A judicial trained and independent mind duly assisted by officers well-acquainted with the security considerations and the Registrar General of the High Court, who has seized the records pursuant to our orders will be best suited to look into all the issues and submit a confidential report for the consideration of this court."

Until the committee's report is submitted, the Centre and the Punjab government are restrained from taking any actions, including show-cause notices to officers, the order said.

A three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli had heard a PIL filed by Delhi-based NGO Lawyers Voice, which sought action against officials responsible for the security lapse.

During the hearing, Punjab Advocate General DS Patwalia had objected to the issue of show case notices by the central government to Punjab's chief secretary and director-general of police, arguing that the notices showed that they had already found as if these officers were guilty of the lapses.

"I will not get a fair hearing from the central government. Please appoint an independent committee to give us a fair hearing," he had told the judges on January 10.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the Centre, had countered that there had been a "complete intelligence failure" on the part of the State. Besides, he had submitted, it was an admitted fact that there had been a security lapse in violation of the Special Protection Group Act and the 'Blue Book'.

The inquiry committee is to probe if there was any breach of conditions in the Blue Book that contains a detailed procedure to be followed by the state authorities and the Special Protection Group (SPG) that guards the Prime Minister, to ensure his full safety and security while he is touring a state.

In its order, the Supreme Court noted that the additional object of this Blue Book is to avoid any human error, negligence or any willful omission or commission which may hamper and/or expose the safety and security of the Executive Head of the nation while he is travelling in a particular State. It said any lapse in this regard can lead to devastating and serious consequences and it should be duly probed instead of a blame game going on between the Centre and the State on who’s responsible for such lapses since "war of words between them is no solution."

 

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