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Opinion | Haryana Ministers Should Face Trial for Snoozing on Dera Sacha Sauda Violence

According to the media reports, two or three ministers in the Haryana government were heard saying to the Dera Sacha Sauda followers before the violence began that, Section 144 order was not for them.

KTS Tulsi |

Updated:September 9, 2017, 5:18 PM IST
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Manohar Lal Khattar
File photo of Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar.

The conviction of self-appointed guru for many, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh of raping two women, leading to violence by his followers resulted in killing 38 people and damaging property worth millions of rupees. It shakes up a logical mind that how can anyone be driven so blind in utter superstition; as calling this ‘faith’ would be grossly unjust, to go to the extent of taking human lives and destructing property at such a massive scale.

Perhaps, it has been rightly said that a mob has no mind of its own and when mob is enraged, a reason is the last thing that can deter them from behaving like beasts. A mob is not only ignorant but is also blind. Mob law is thus, an antithesis of the rule of law.

There is a clear-cut procedure in the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) for crowd control. Sections 129-132 CrPC deal with the same. The principal issue that is often overlooked is that the responsibility for dispersal is on the discretion of the officer on the spot. CrPC gives full powers to the Magistrate or any police officer of the rank of a Sub-Inspector or above to use all means to disperse the assembly.

The situation is complicated only when the politicians, for their own vested interests, start interfering in the discretion of the police and the Executive Magistrate. The Code did not even envisage prior permission before use of force from anyone, including senior police officers, who are not present on the spot.

The discretionary authority and the means of dispersal have been left to the judgement of the officers on the spot. There needs to be an enquiry as to why large crowds were allowed to assemble, despite directions to the contrary by the High Court. The most significant step to prevent riot is to prevent the assembly of a large number of people. Let the truth emerge as to on whose instructions this took place.

According to the media reports, two or three ministers in the Haryana government were heard saying to the Dera followers before the violence began that, Section 144 order was not for them.

This is a clear breach of the High Court’s direction. If it happened, it means these ministers were aiding the mobs which could, under certain circumstances, tantamount to inciting violence and put the law and order machinery in a tight spot. If indeed, these allegations are substantiated in an enquiry, these ministers will be liable to be arrested and tried along with the rioters as abettors or co-conspirators, as the case may be.

What is lamenting is that states, particularly Haryana, which has immense powers under our Constitution to uphold law and order, has not once, not twice but for a third time, witnessed this shameless devastation like a mute, lame and impotent spectator. This recent incident has compelled anyone of us with the slightest sense of reason to ask themselves, do we really live in a civilized society?

What is more grotesque is that this orgy of violence and bloodshed was unleashed not for an apostle of peace or some social cause but a “convicted rapist”.

In my opinion, self-styled persons like Gurmeet Ram Rahim, who are in fact, a bunch of jokers, should have been given life imprisonment, the maximum punishment prescribed under the law in this case, because in the garb of a saint they loot the dignity and pride of women.

However, although State was in deep slumber, the judiciary was working overtime. The Punjab & Haryana High Court deserves to be praised for the landmark and significant directions they gave of attaching the properties owned by Dera to compensate for the damage and destruction to lives and property.

Before I delve deeper into the legalese of attaching of properties by courts and legislation governing them, another aspect which needs a serious thought is the observations made by the High Court about the government, both at the State and Centre.

What forced the High Court to observe that, “…He is the PM of not the BJP but of India…” This reminds me of similar observations made by the Supreme Court in the aftermath of Godhra carnage that “…The modern day Neros were looking elsewhere when Best Bakery and innocent children and helpless women were burning...” Sadly enough, in both cases, the gentleman referred to is one and the same.

It is not about your party my party jibes, it is the constitutional courts of our country speaking, and when they make such observations, then it cannot be simply brushed under the carpet. We have to ask ourselves, which direction our country is going in, it can be anything but progressive. Mobs lynching people to death, sometimes in the name of beef while at others, in the name of rapists, is certainly nowhere in the direction of progress and growth.

Another premise germane to the issue is, why do the courts have to step in such issues? The simple answer is — the executive is sleeping.

Laws are already in place, being The Haryana Prevention of Defacement of Property Act, 1989 and the Punjab Prevention of Damage to Public and Private Property Act, 2014. The question is why did the state not act on its own and seize the properties of Dera Sacha Sauda to compensate for the losses their followers made by massive destruction of public property under the said Acts.

Why did the High Court have to issue directions?

The moot problem is not the lack of legislation but its implementation. If existing laws are implemented in their full spirit, such incidents will definitely be fewer to witness. However, the implementation needs a genuine political will and an effective administration.

Haryana government and particularly, Manohar Lal Khattar, have proven thrice, they lack both miserably. Again, the observations of High Court in this respect or the strictures on Haryana CM, are worth quoting, “…You allowed the city to burn for political gains. It seems the government has surrendered to agitators…”

Nonetheless, despite such a situation and stern strictures passed by the High Court, the State continues to have Khattar as its Chief Minister, may be because not resigning and clinging to the chair, is the sacrosanct norm for certain parties, morality and conscience are alien to their profile and obstinacy their inherent characteristic.

(KTS Tulsi is a senior advocate in the Supreme Court of India. Views expressed are personal)

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| Edited by: Puja Menon
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