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State machinery failed in India’s northeast – top court

The Supreme Court termed the investigation of cases related to Manipur violence by local police as “tardy” and “lethargic”

Hitting at the government over its handling of communal clashes in the remote state of Manipur, in northeast India, the Supreme Court on Tuesday stated that there has been a complete breakdown of constitutional order in the state for the past two months.

Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, who is heading the bench, termed the investigation as “lethargic” and “tardy”, expressing concern over the delayed registration of FIRs and recording of statements. The court also demanded the personal presence of the Manipur Director General of Police in the next hearing on Monday, according to reports in the Indian media.

These remarks come amidst calls from opposition parties for the resignation of Manipur chief minister N Biren Singh and the imposition of President’s Rule in the state.

During the hearing, solicitor general Tushar Mehta informed the court that more than 6,500 First Information Reports (FIRs) related to the violence had been filed, including 11 cases of crimes against women and children. He mentioned that seven individuals, including a juvenile, had been arrested in connection with the shocking incident of women being paraded naked and allegedly gang-raped.

The video of this incident went viral on social media on July 20, nearly three months after it occurred. The delayed release of the video was due to the internet services ban imposed in the state. Justice Chandrachud inquired about the interrogation of policemen accused of facilitating the mob’s actions, to which Mehta responded that obtaining such information overnight might not be feasible. The court did not receive detailed information on any cases registered regarding another incident involving the gang-rape and murder of two women.

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Members of Christian organizations hold solidarity prayer meet for restoration of peace in Manipur after the recent ethnic violence, at a school in Guwahati on June 24, 2023. Biju BORO / AFP
Outrage in India over video of molested and naked women paraded in Manipur

Chief Justice Chandrachud criticized the lack of progress in many cases, citing the example of an FIR dated July 26 for an incident that occurred on May 4. He expressed disappointment in the lethargic investigation, delays in filing complaints, and the lack of arrests. 

“One thing is clear; the state police are incapable of investigations. It’s absolutely clear they have lost control of law and order in the state…There is no law and order left in Manipur,” the bench said, according to Hindustan Times. It added that if arrests were not made assuming that police could not enter the localities, the bench asked, “does it not point out there was a complete breakdown of law and order and the constitutional machinery in the state?” 

The Solicitor General assured the court that there would be no lethargy on the government’s part and expressed willingness to transfer all 11 FIRs to India’s top crime investigation agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation. However, the Chief Justice emphasized the need to prioritize serious cases and not transfer all of them to the CBI. The court also acknowledged that the material provided by the government was inadequate, particularly considering the 150 deaths that occurred in Manipur since the violence erupted on May 3. The Chief Justice urged the state to provide a comprehensive breakdown of FIRs based on the nature of the crimes.

Consequently, the court ordered the Director General of Police to appear in the next hearing on Monday, prepared with specific information on each complaint. Justice Chandrachud proposed the idea of forming a committee of former high court judges to address the situation. He clarified that this was just a thought and not a definitive decision. 

During the previous day’s hearing, the court had raised challenging questions to the government, emphasizing the importance of safeguarding women across the country and not excusing crimes based on their occurrence in other regions. The issue has led to a deadlock in parliament, with both houses repeatedly adjourned since the start of the monsoon session on July 20.

August 02, 2023 at 10:45AM

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