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'Was It Lying on a Road?': Delhi HC Pulls Up Police on 'Leaked' Riots Case File

The court observed that leaking case files to the media amounts to denying the accused a free and fair trial.
Delhi high court. Photo: Reuters

New Delhi: The Delhi high court on Monday pulled up the vigilance wing of the Delhi Police for failing to explain the reason behind the leak of a case file, pertaining to an accused in the Delhi riots, to the media. It said this amounted to denying the accused a free and fair trial, LiveLaw.in has reported.

The accused, Asif Iqbal Tanha, who is a student of Jamia Milia Islamia and has been accused of setting fire to buses during the Delhi riots, appealed to the court in October 2020 that his ‘disclosure statement’ with the police had been handed over to media with a view to prejudicing public opinion against him. The court then directed the Delhi Police to establish the source of leak.

However, the Delhi Police in its affidavit stated that allegations of a leak to the media were merely “unsubstantiated”. To this, the single judge bench of Justice Mukta Gupta asked how the vigilance officials could assert the leak allegations had become “unsubstantiated” merely because the Delhi Police could not locate the source.

Justice Gupta asked if the disclosure statement of the accused was a document “lying on a road” to be accessed easily by the media, and wondered if such documents were not handled by senior IAS officers.

“This vigilance enquiry is even worse than what they do in a petty theft case,” he noted.

To Delhi Police standing counsel Amit Mahajan’s description of the whole episode as “undesirable”, the judge shot back saying, “It is not just undesirable. It is prejudicial to the accused, the case and the purity of the investigation. And this is contempt.”

Also read: Court Asks Delhi Police to File Action Taken Report on Plea Against Kapil Mishra for Inciting Riots

Tanha’s counsel, Siddharth Aggarwal, referring to a report aired by Zee News on August 18, 2020, said it had violated the right of the accused to a free and fair trial, as Tanha’s disclosure statement had been put out “even before the first ball in the court is played”.

Incidentally, a number of ‘disclosure statements’ have appeared in the media purporting to suggest that several of the men and women accused of conspiring to riot had “admitted” to their “role”.  In virtually all of these instances, the accused have denied making any such “confession”.

Since ‘disclosure statements’ ostensibly made to the police are not admissible in court, they have no evidentiary value in a trial. But leaking them to the media does allow the accused to appear guilty in the eyes of the public.

On the Delhi Police’s submission that the charge against it was a mere “unsubstantiated allegation”, Aggarwal appealed to the court to order an independent investigation into the matter, as the Delhi Police was merely “concerned about protecting its own people”.

The Delhi Police affidavit claimed that it had merely sent the case file to the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi and the Ministry of Home Affairs, indicating that it had no role in leaking the matter to the media.

While observing that it may not be the police officials who leaked the matter, Judge Gupta, however, raised questions on how vigilance enquiry was done, calling for “a check”.

The court adjourned further hearing to March 5 asking the special commissioner of police (vigilance) to join the virtual court proceedings.

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