The court iterated its oral advice to both the Centre and Punjab government not to proceed further with their separate probes into the matter. It also objected to the Centre issuing showcause notices to the Punjab chief secretary, DGP and five other state officers when the apex court was already seized of the matter.
The bench said it would soon pass orders to set up the probe committee led by the retired judge and comprising the Chandigarh DGP, an NIA inspector general, Punjab & Haryana HC’s registrar and the additional DG (security) of Punjab.
At the very outset on Monday, Punjab advocate general D S Patwalia took exception to the showcause notices issued by the home ministry and setting up of a committee while asking the officials to respond within 24 hours as to why disciplinary action be not taken against them for the alleged lapses leading to the security breach.
The Punjab AG said, “The MHA has already declared them guilty without a hearing. What is the purpose of setting up an inquiry committee in which an IG of SPG is also a member. The foregone conclusion is that they will be condemned without being heard.” He said the state is ready for an impartial investigation to fix accountability and responsibility as it considered the security breach during the PM’s visit as serious. “Hang them if they are guilty. But, do not condemn them without hearing them,” he pleaded with the bench of CJI N V Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the MHA set up the committee in keeping with the SPG Act and the Blue-Book for VVIP security and to find out who are the persons responsible for the lapse when the details of PM’s travel plan had shared with them. The Punjab DGP gave all clear for the PM’s motorcade when it started from Bathinda and he never informed over wireless about the road blockade.
In a rare instance, Mehta screen-shared the provisions of the Blue-Book, which said, “The State/UT shall make all the protective arrangements required for the security and safety of the Prime Minister, while the SPG shall provide proximate protection to the PM.”
The Blue-Book also said, “The implementation of these rules will be the responsibility of the Director General/Inspector General of Police of the State/UT assisted by the Inspector General/DIG (CID/Intelligence/Security) and/or Commissioner of Police in case of cities having such Commissioners.” Mehta showed Rule 9 of the Blue-Book, which said, “Crowds have to be properly controlled by a judicious deployment of police and erecting barricades at road crossings and other congested parts of the route.”
The CJI-led bench said while it has taken a serious view of the breach in PM’s security, but that does not mean the Centre would go ahead with the show cause notice and inquiry into the incident despite the SC having ordered seizure of all official documents relating to the incident. “It was not expected of the Centre to give the Punjab chief secretary and DGP 24-hours to respond to its show cause notice when the SC is already seized of the matter and proposing a high-level inquiry,” the bench said.
The SG said the show cause notices were issued prior to the SC taking up the PIL filed by ‘Lawyers Voice’ and attempted to justify the Centre’s action by terming it as a mere process to identify lapses on the part of individuals who were in the loop about the PM’s route and were statutorily saddled to ensure safe and smooth passage for the PM’s motorcade.
But the bench said the issue before the court is to inquire into the security breach and fix responsibility. “If you take up disciplinary proceedings and try to fix responsibility, what is left for the court to determine,” the bench asked. The SG offered that the committee would submit a report to the SC for further action. But the bench said neither the Centre nor the state should proceed with their inquiries.