NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Thursday slammed Delhi Police for the excessive use of force during the midnight eviction of Baba Ramdev’s supporters from Ramlila Maidan on June 4 last year, calling it a case of police excess, human rights’ violation, abuse of power and assault on democratic values enshrined in the Constitution and asked for criminal prosecution of cops.

The court laid part of the blame for injuries to people also at the yoga guru’s door saying he, instead of asking his followers to disperse peacefully, insisted on continuing with the rally. It also asked for the prosecution of Ramdev’s supporters who engaged in brick-batting and vandalism.

However, the focus of the court’s disapproval was directed at Delhi Police, with a bench of Justices B S Chauhan and Swatanter Kumar asking for criminal prosecution of cops who used excessive force and remained insensitive to the cries of the injured. The bench also seemed to disbelieve the claim of the Centre and Delhi Police that the action was decided by the personnel on the spot, suspecting that the cops may have been nudged by the Union home ministry.

“The action demonstrated the might of the state and was an assault on the very basic democratic values enshrined in our Constitution… The chain of events reveals that it was a case of police excesses and, to a limited extent, even abuse of power,” the bench said.

The bench summed up its diagnosis of the surprise action against Ramdev’s supporters as reflecting the growing chasm between the ruler and the ruled, saying, “The present case is a glaring example of trust deficit between the people governing and the people to be governed. Greater confidence needs to be built between the authorities in power and the public at large.”

Though the court stopped short of approving Ramdev’s Swabhiman Trust’s claim that the midnight crackdown on the rally where sleeping supporters were violently evicted using baton and tear gas shells was planned in the home ministry and executed brutally by Delhi Police, it smelt a rat in the official version of the sequence of events.

The bench said there appeared to be a “shadow of the decision of the Union home ministry” in the unwarranted police action. It severely criticized the hasty manner in which the police cancelled permission for the rally even though the Municipal Corporation of Delhi had permitted the rally to run till June 20.

“Upon taking into consideration the cumulative effect of the affidavits filed on record and other documentary evidence, I am unable to dispel the argument that the decision of the ministry of home affairs, Union of India, reflected its shadow on the decision making process and decision of the police authorities,” said Justice Swatanter Kumar, who authored the lead judgment.

It ordered ad-hoc compensation of Rs 5 lakh to Rajbala, one of Ramdev’s disciples who died of injuries suffered from the police brutality, and Rs 50,000 each to those with serious injuries and Rs 25,000 each to people who suffered minor injuries. Of these amounts, 75% would be borne by Delhi Police while 25% would be provided by Ramdev’s Swabhiman Trust.

Justice Chauhan, who agreed with Justice Kumar, said the police was expected to maintain peace and tranquility but not at the cost of breaching peace itself. He disapproved use of force against a sleeping crowd and said such an assembly could not be termed unlawful. “Thus, the present case is a clear-cut case of human rights violation,” Justice Chauhan said.

However, both judges agreed that another section of the police behaved properly and were seen persuading people to leave the venue peacefully. The court had taken suo motu notice of the police action immediately after the incident.

The bench said, “The decision to forcibly evict the innocent public sleeping at the Ramlila grounds in the midnight of June 4-5, 2011, whether taken by the police independently or in consultation with the ministry of home affairs is amiss and suffers from the element of arbitrariness and abuse of power to some extent.”

Highlights of the judgment:

1. Police decision to cancel permission for Ramdev’s rally and impose Section 144 CrPC was in undue haste and executed with force and overzealousness

2. Excessive police action was in abuse of power and was an invasion of liberties and freedoms of Ramdev’s supporters

3. Ramdev too to be blamed for insisting on carrying on with the protest in the face of police order instead of asking his supporters to disperse peacefully

4. From now on, rally organizers to undertake to abide by decision of police and authorities granting them permission subject to court orders

5. Police to investigate criminal cases registered against police personnel who used excessive force or remained insensitive to the injured and also against Ramdev’s supporters who indulged in brickbats and vandalism and file chargesheets in 3 months

6. Police and Ramdev’s Swabhiman Trust to share on 75:25 ratio payment of compensation of Rs 5 lakh to the kin of Rajbala who died of injuries sustained during police action. They would also pay Rs 50,000 each to seriously injured and Rs 25,000 each to people suffering minor injuries.

Source: Times of India (http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-02-24/india/31095185_1_delhi-police-home-ministry-midnight-crackdown) – 29/2/2012

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