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SC Rejects Haryana Govt Plea Against Judicial Probe into Farmer's Death During Protests

The apex court said the right to fair investigation needs to be protected. Punjab and Haryana High court had on March 7 ordered judicial probe after noting that the investigation cannot be entrusted either to Punjab or Haryana as both states have several things to cover up.
File image of farmers at the protest in Haryana. Photo: Special Arrangement

Chandigarh: In a setback to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Haryana, the Supreme Court has refused to stay the judicial probe into the death of a young farmer from Punjab who died during farmers protest at Punjab-Haryana border on February 21.

The judicial probe was also to investigate whether the use of force on protesting farmers marching towards Delhi was commensurate with the situation on the ground.

It is learnt that Haryana police had dropped tear gas shells to halt farmers from reaching Delhi to protest against the BJP government at the Centre on their key demand to legalise minimum support price (MSP).

Even as Haryana police had blamed protesting farmers for resorting to violence and injuring several of their personnel with stones and swords, it was during these clashes that Shubhkaran Singh (22) was killed due to a bullet injury on February 21.

Later the probe into his death had been stuck over a jurisdiction issue between Punjab and Haryana before the Punjab and Haryana high court ordered a judicial probe on March 7 while citing that the probe into his death couldn’t be entrusted either with Punjab or Haryana since both states have several things to cover up. The high court also widened the scope of the probe by asking the probe committee to find out if the use of force to halt the protesting farmer was justified or not.

While the high court will hear the matter on April 10 to take stock of the investigation by the probe committee formed under retired justice Jaishree Thakur, the Haryana government’s hopes to prevail over the said HC order appear to have been dashed for now.

What was Haryana’s plea?

Haryana in its petition to the Supreme Court that the high court erred in passing the above order since in the present matter, substantially, FIR was registered on the complaint of the young farmer’s father in Punjab and later transferred to Haryana for further probe.

Further, the high court had erred in doubting the territorial jurisdiction of the Haryana Police to investigate the matter.

Also, the High Court failed to take into consideration that the Haryana police were ready and willing, as a matter of duty, to investigate the case in a fair, proper and impartial manner. However, it is due to the non-cooperation of the state of Punjab, the petitioner was not able to move forward with the investigation, the Haryana plea added.

The plea added that the High Court has passed the impugned order dated March 7 contrary to the scheme of Chapter X of the CrPC, Section 129 and 130 of which provide the procedure for maintenance of public order and tranquillity. In the present case, magistrate authorising the use of force by the police was present at the spot of occurrence of the violence/clashes and passed reasoned orders based on a real-time threat assessment as well as per the provisions of the Code.

If the judicial committee formed by way of the impugned order is permitted to decide on the issue of adequacy of use of force at the current stage, it will be tantamount to prejudging the entire series of events, the plea added.

Then in the end, the Haryana government pleaded that such an intervention for prejudging the use of force may have the effect of demoralizing the police forces involved in the maintenance of law and order in an ingoing protest since more clashes are anticipated in the immediate future.

The use of force and the adequacy thereof cannot be within the confines of a straight jacket formula and the same depend on the facts and circumstances of each case.

What SC said? 

Expressing reluctance to stay the High Court order, the SC bench under Justice Surya Kant and Justice KV Viswanathan observed that a judicial probe would ensure a fair investigation into the events.

“The high court, in its wisdom, has thought of (appointing) a former judge, why should we (interfere) with it? The right to fair investigation needs to be protected,” Justice Surya Kant, the presiding judge, observed during course of hearing as quoted by Livelaw.

It is despite the fact that Haryana government counsel vehemently opposed the order for a judicial probe and said that if the police would have to face PIL for each incident, then how they would control law and order?

However providing no relief to Haryana, Supreme Court deferred the matter to April 19. All eyes will now be on April 10 when the matter is listed for hearing in high court.

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