Lawyer-police tussle

Clash between lawyers and policemen: Lawless in Delhi

Print edition : December 06, 2019

At the Tis Hazari Court complex in New Delhi after lawyers and police personnel clashed on November 2. Photo: Vijay Verma/PTI

The capital city witnesses an unseemly tussle between lawyers and police personnel.

ON November 5, New Delhi witnessed the rare sight of policemen laying siege to the police headquarters. Thousands of police personnel, with their family members in tow, defied appeals for restraint from their supervisors and participated in an hours-long stir, raising slogans and blocking traffic. The incident was sparked by two successive instances of violent scuffle with lawyers.

Violence erupted first at the Tis Hazari Court complex on November 2 when a heated exchange of words between policemen and lawyers over a parking slot intensified and led to a brawl that left several people on both sides injured and many vehicles damaged. According to the lawyers, the policemen used coercion against them and, allegedly, fired at them. Barely two days later, on November 4, a court complex at Delhi’s Saket locality witnessed a ruckus as a policeman was heckled and attacked by a group of lawyers. Passions soared high among policemen as a video of the incident, leaked into social media, showed a motorcycle-borne policeman fleeing after an altercation with six lawyers, one of whom rammed his elbow into the policeman and slapped him twice.

The rage and indignation of the policemen were exacerbated by a Delhi High Court judgment pronounced on November 3 that said that no steps would be taken against the lawyers. The court had, however, made it clear that the order was applicable in light of the two first information reports against the lawyers that were registered on November 2 with regard to the Tis Hazari Court incident.

But the protesting policemen demanded that the High Court’s observation be challenged in the apex court as they were concerned about their safety and the damage done to their authority and prestige.

The lawyers, who have a very different view of the two incidents, expressed shock at the city being brought to a standstill and felt that the protests by policemen constituted a violation of their code of conduct.

“It’s a mutiny” is how Sanjeev Nasiar, a former president of the Delhi Bar Association, described the November 5 protests. He said that the police personnel must be punished for “violation of service rules”.

Following the agitation, the Indian Police Service (Central) Association passed a resolution pressing upon the courts the need to “treat all parties equitably and grant justice”. The resolution called for punitive action against the accused lawyers. It called for speedy identification of these lawyers and initiation of befitting legal action, including cancellation of their licence.

On November 5, the pleas of senior police officials fell on deaf ears as policemen on the spot said they would not move until they got an assurance that their demands would be met. Delhi Police Commissioner Amulya Patnaik was among the officials who tried to end the impasse. “I appeal to all to maintain peace. It’s trying time for us. We need to fulfil the responsibility of maintaining and assuring law and order. It is expected of us that we, the protectors of law, will continue to assure law and order in the capital,” he said. But the situation was defused only in the evening after Special Commissioner of Police Satish Golcha announced an ex gratia payment of Rs.25,000 to all the injured policemen and assured them that their demands would be considered.

The prime time TV media coverage of the incident tilted in favour of the police personnel, with some news anchors speaking of the accused lawyers in scathing terms and courting sympathy for the attacked policemen. On November 6, in the Delhi High Court, the Bar Council demanded a media blackout of all incidents of violence, including the incident between the lawyers and the police at the Tis Hazari Court complex. It argued that both the police and the media were acting in conjunction against lawyers to tilt the merits of the case to their disadvantage. The court did not entertain this appeal. This impelled the lawyers to move the Supreme Court. There was an overwhelming sense among the lawyers that the use of terms such as “goondas” (goons) by the TV media was triggering sentiments against them. The Supreme Court dismissed this sweeping demand for a media blackout when it heard the petition on November 7.

In the aftermath of the episode, the transfers of some senior Delhi Police officers was effected. These officers included Special Commissioner of Police Sanjay Singh, who was in charge of (Law and Order) North. He was transferred to Licensing and Transport. Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police North, Harender Kumar Singh, was moved to the Railways. The charge of (Law and Order) North was given additionally to the Special Commissioner R.S. Krishna, who is in charge of (Law and Order) South. Dinesh Kumar Gupta, DCP Railways, was made the Additional DCP (Law and Order) North. The transfers, seen as a fallout of the Tis Hazari Court incident, came in the wake of a Delhi High Court directive to the Delhi Police Commissioner instructing the transfer of two senior officers, Sanjay Singh and Harender Kumar Singh, who are both accused of playing a role in the incident.

Meanwhile, as per media reports, a secret report prepared by the Special Branch of the Delhi Police has concluded that DCP Monika Bhardwaj was attacked by a violent mob of over 200 people on the day of the Tis Hazari Court clash. The report said that the unarmed woman police officer could have been “lynched” had a small police contingent not acted in time and provided her cover. Following the report, a video went into circulation showing some men in lawyers’ robes in a tussle with policemen surrounding the woman officer.

Political turn

The episodes soon took a political turn, with questions being raised about Home Minister Amit Shah’s ability to rein in the protesting police officers who brought central Delhi to a standstill for several hours on November 5. The Delhi Police reports to the Union Ministry for Home Affairs. Questions were also raised over Amit Shah’s failure to resolve the issue amicably and prevent a public spectacle that was bound to give a sorry impression of the law and order machinery.The Congress described the entire episode as a “political failure” of Amit Shah.

“Delhi Police personnel are seeking justice by surrounding their own headquarters for the first time in 72 years of Independence, and the law and order is in a shambles,” Randeep Surjewala, the Congress’ chief spokesperson, said in a press conference the same day. The following day, he tweeted a two-minute video whose underlying message was, If policemen had to take to the streets for grievance redressal, what hope did ordinary citizens have?

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which rules Delhi and is preparing for a stiff re-election battle when the Union Territory votes early next year, condemned the police brutalities against the lawyers and demanded that a judicial inquiry be set up by Amit Shah for a fair investigation into the matter.

“It is even more shocking as the police opened fired at unarmed lawyers.... The firing... raises some grave questions,” AAP spokesperson Raghav Chadha said at a press conference. “If lawyers, the custodians of justice and the legal system, are not safe on the premises of a court of law, what can be expected by the common man of Delhi?” he questioned.

He demanded that the Home Ministry urgently set up a judicial inquiry to investigate the brutal attack against the lawyer community in Delhi; the Delhi Police officers who participated in the assault; and the roles, responsibilities and accountability in the Delhi Police to avoid further deterioration of law and order in Delhi.

In an interview with a news agency, AAP spokesperson Saurabh Bhardwaj raised a pertinent question: “IPC [Indian Penal Code] Section 144 [prohibiting assembly of more than four people] is imposed in and around the police headquarters all the time, then how is it that the protest is being held there? Why has there been no action?”

Raking up the party’s oft-repeated accusation against the Centre, he said that the Bharatiya Janata Party government had been emboldening the Delhi Police with an underlying objective of turning Delhi into a police state.

“The police is least concerned about basic law & order issues in Delhi. Police officers are so arrogant. Delhi Police has been converted into political entity and works like an armed wing of BJP,” he tweeted.

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