25 Aug 2023 6:12 AM GMT
The Supreme Court on Friday issued a slew of directions to transfer the sexual violence cases related to Manipur ethnic violence, which have been transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), to Assam, "bearing in mind the overall environment in Manipur, and the need for ensuring a fair process of criminal justice administration".The Court asked the Chief Justice of the Gauhati...
The Supreme Court on Friday issued a slew of directions to transfer the sexual violence cases related to Manipur ethnic violence, which have been transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), to Assam, "bearing in mind the overall environment in Manipur, and the need for ensuring a fair process of criminal justice administration".
The Court asked the Chief Justice of the Gauhati High Court to designate Courts in Guwahati to handle the pre-trial steps of CBI cases. Applications for remand, extension of custody, issuance of warrants etc., can be virtually made by the investigating agency before the designated Courts in Guwahati. The Court further stated that the victims and witnesses will be at the liberty to give evidence virtually from their places in Manipur, instead of travelling physically to the Assam Courts.
A bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, JB Pardiwala, and Manoj Misra passed the directions accepting the suggestions made by Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta on behalf of the State of Manipur. He raised the following issues - there could be be some concerns about the judges in Manipur belonging to particular communities; also, there are security concerns regarding the transfer of accused. He suggested that the trials be transferred to a designated court in the neighbouring state of Assam.
Lawyers appearing for the victims/tribal groups - Senior Advocates Colin Gonsalves, Chander Uday Singh, Indira Jaising, Advocates Vrinda Grover and Nizam Pasha -objected to the proposal to the transfer of cases to Assam. Gonsalves insisted that the trials should take place in the jurisdictional places where the offences took place and stated that the victims cannot be forced to go to Assam. Jaising raised concerns about trials being transferred to Assam and said that this was contrary to an earlier assurance made by the SG. Pasha said that language barrier issues might arise if the cases are transferred to Assam. He suggested Mizoram as an alternate location.
In response, CJI said that the other neighbouring States are "smaller states with lesser infrastructure". He also said that for the victims to travel to other places like Shillong (an alternative suggested by Jaising), they have to go through Assam in any case.
Assuaging the concerns raised by the victims regarding travel of the witnesses/victims, the bench said that they can record their evidence virtually.
"There have been victims in valleys, and in hills. It would be difficult for people who suffered in valleys to travel to hills, and other way round. We are not on who suffered more, just the practical difficulty", CJI said.
SG said that these directions are sought only for the cases which have been transferred to the CBI and the other cases which are being investigated by the Special Investigation Teams will remain in Manipur only.
After the hearing, the bench dictated the order as follows :
"At the present stage, bearing in mind the overall environment in Manipur, and the need for ensuring a fair process of criminal justice administration, we issue the following directions :
1.We request the Chief Justice of the High Court of Gauhati to nominate one or more officers of the rank of Chief Judicial Magistrate/Sessions Judge in Guwahati in the State of Assam. Chief Justice to preferably select judges who are conversant in one or more languages of Manipur.
2. All applications for the production of accused, remand, judicial custody, extension of custody and other proceedings in connection with the investigation are allowed to be conducted in the online mode bearing in mind both the security and distance issues.
3. The judicial custody of the accused, when granted, shall be permitted in the State of Manipur to obviate transit.
4. The statements of witnesses under Sect 164 CrPc are permitted to be recorded in the presence of a local Magistrate in Manipur, or as the case may be, the place where the witnesses reside outside Manipur. The Acting Chief Justice of Manipur to designate Magistrates for these purposes.
5. The test identification parades are permitted to take place in the presence of a Manipur based Magistrate.
6. Applications such as arrest and warrant are permitted to be made through the online mode"
When Advocate Nizam Pasha pointed out that internet is not fully restored in the State of Manipur, the bench asked the SG to ensure that internet connectivity is there in the places of designated local Magistrates.
"Solicitor General has assured that proper internet connectivity will be ensured in the places in Manipur to comply with the above directions", the bench recorded in the order.
At this point, Jaising raised a demand that the option of physical appearance should not be foreclosed. Following this, the bench clarified in the order, "The above directions shall not operate to preclude any witness or person to appear physically before the judge in Guwahati".
The bench was hearing a batch of pleas over the ethnic clashes in Manipur, including one suo motu action taking cognizance of a graphic video that went viral last month depicting two Manipuri women being paraded naked and sexually assaulted.
The court had earlier this month, constituted a committee of three retired women judges of high courts to look into the humanitarian aspects of the Manipur crisis including relief, remedial measures, rehabilitation measures, and restoration of homes and places of worship. This committee submitted its reports on the last occasion and the bench directed them to be circulated to the counsel and sought suggestions from them.
The north-eastern state of Manipur has been plunged in a frenzy of violence since May, over a high court order directing the state government to consider including the non-tribal Meitei community in the list of Scheduled Tribes. This order led to ethnic clashes breaking out between different ethnic groups.
Last month, a graphic video depicting two women being paraded naked and assaulted went viral, shocking the nation and bringing renewed attention to the allegations of human rights violations emerging from the State of Manipur. This led to the Supreme Court taking suo motu cognizance of the video and starting the monitor the investigation into this alleged incidents as well as other instances of violence across the state.
After slamming the investigation as ‘lethargic’, and lamenting the “absolute breakdown of law and order and the machinery of the State”, the Supreme Court passed a slew of directions earlier this month.
After noting that the Centre has decided to entrust 11 FIRs relating to sexual violence to the Central Bureau of Investigation, the court directed that five officers at least of the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha, and National Capital Territory of Delhi will assist the CBI in investigating these cases. At least one of these five officers will be a woman according to the directions of the top court. With respect to the cases being investigated by the state police, the court has constituted 42 special investigation teams that will look after those cases which have not been transferred to the CBI. These SITs will include one officer of the rank of Police Inspector drawn from the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Delhi, and Maharashtra.
The process of investigation, according to the directions, shall be monitored by the Supreme Court itself. For this purpose, it appointed Dattatray Padsalgikar, former Director General of Police for the State of Maharashtra to supervise the investigation to be undertaken by CBI as well as SITs.
Notably, the court also formed a special committee to interact with the victims and to ensure proper humanitarian aid for them, comprising three retired women judges from high courts, namely, former Chief Justice of Jammu and Kashmir High Court Gita Mittal, former judge of the Bombay High Court Shalini Joshi, and former judge of the Delhi High Court Asha Menon. This committee has been tasked to look into the aspects of relief, remedial and rehabilitation measures, and restoration of homes and places of worship. Three reports were submitted by the three women committee earlier this week.
Dinganglung Gangmei v. Mutum Churamani Meetei & Ors. | Special Leave Petition (Civil) Diary No. 19206 of 2023 and other connected matters
Citation : 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 729
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