Blame Game Between Centre And Punjab, Questions Can’t Be Left To One-Sided Enquiries: SC On PM Security Lapse
Without mincing any words and without taking any sides on the breach of security of PM Narendra Modi that one witnessed during his visit to Punjab on January 5, 2022, the Supreme Court in a learned, laudable, landmark and latest judgment titled Lawyers Voice vs The State of Punjab & Others in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 13 of 2022 delivered on January 12, 2022 observed clearly, cogently and convincingly that there is a blame game between the State and Central Government as to who is responsible for such lapses. It must be apprised here that a Bench of Apex Court comprising of the Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, Justice Surya Kant and Justice Hima Kohli while taking a practical approach has opined that war of words between the Centre and State is not a solution and it may rather impair the need for a robust mechanism to respond at such a critical juncture. It cannot be denied that the lapse in PM Narendra Modi’s security arrangements which had left his convoy stranded on a flyover for around 20 minutes near Firozpur in Punjab is indeed a serious one and this has been conceded not just by the ruling party in Centre but even by Opposition parties like Aam Aadmi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and even by none other than the eminent and senior Supreme Court lawyer Manish Tewari of the Congress party who was earlier even the Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting who said that the PM was within the firing range of Pakistan which certainly cannot be lightly dismissed!
To start with, it is first and foremost stated in para 1 of this judgment that, “The present Writ Petition arises out of the incident dated 5.01.2021 wherein on a visit to Hussainiwala, District Firozpur, State of Punjab the convoy of the Prime Minister was stuck on a flyover for around 20 minutes.”
While dwelling on the directions that the petitioner prayed for, the Bench then envisages in para 2 that, “Petitioner, an NGO which purports to work for advocates across the country and takes up causes that are in public interest, therefore, seeks that this Court take cognizance of the above incident and has prayed for the following directions:
“(a) Take cognizance of the serious and deliberate lapse on part of the Respondent Nos. 1, 2 and 3 concerning the security and the movement of the Prime Minister of the country; and
(b) Direct the learned District Judge, Bhatinda, to collect documents and materials from all possible sources pertaining to the movements and deployment of Punjab Police and in connection with the visit at the earliest and produce the same before this Hon’ble Court; and
(c) Issue a writ of mandamus or any other writ, order or direction fixing responsibility of the Respondent No. 2 and Respondent No. 3 and places them under suspension and further direct the Respondent No. 4 to initiate departmental action against the same;
(d) Please to issue any other writ or direction(s) or order(s) as the Hon’ble Court may deem fit and proper in view of the facts and circumstances of the case and in the interest of justice.””
Needless to say, it is then said in para 3 that, “Petitioner contends that the incident constitutes a very grave security breach that could have had significant repercussions as it impacts the safety of the Hon’ble Prime Minister.”
In hindsight, the Bench then recalls in para 4 that, “Given the seriousness of the subject matter, and the need to ensure a thorough investigation into the alleged lapses by the security apparatus, we took up the matter on the 07th January, 2022 when we heard Mr. Maninder Singh, Senior Advocate on behalf of the petitioner and Mr. Tushar Mehta, learned Solicitor General on behalf of Union of India and Mr. D.S. Patwalia, learned Advocate General for the State of Punjab. This Court, thus, passed the following order:
“1. Heard learned senior counsel Mr. Maninder Singh on behalf of the Petitioner, the learned Solicitor General, Mr. Tushar Mehta, and the learned Advocate General for the State of Punjab, Mr. D.S. Patwalia.
2. Taking into consideration the arguments advanced by the parties with respect to the issues relating to the security of WP(C)No.13/2022 the Hon’ble Prime Minister and other related issues raised by them, we deem it appropriate for the time being to direct the Registrar General, Punjab and Haryana High Court to secure and preserve the records relating to the Hon’ble Prime Minister’s scheduled tour of Punjab on 05th January 2022.
3. We direct the Director General of Police, Union Territory of Chandigarh and an officer of the National Investigation Agency, not below the rank of Inspector General, to be nominated by the Director General, National Investigation Agency to assist the Registrar General, Punjab and Haryana High Court to forthwith secure an seize the records from the State police as well as Central agencies.
4. We further direct the State Government of Punjab, including the police authorities, the Special Protection Group and any other Central/State agencies to cooperate and to provide necessary assistance in securing and seizing the records.
5. We direct the Registrar General, Punjab and Haryana High Court to keep the records in his safe custody for the time being.
6. The Registry is directed to forward a copy of this order electronically, forthwith, to the Registrar General, Punjab and Haryana High Court, the Director General of Police, Union Territory of Chandigarh, the Director General, National Investigation Agency and the Principal Secretary, Home, State of Punjab.
As a corollary, the Bench then mentions in para 5 that, “In deference to the above-stated order, a compliance report has been submitted wherein it has been stated that the relevant records have been received, seized and secured. The same have been sealed and placed in the custody of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.”
On the one hand, the Bench divulges in para 6 that, “On the previous date of hearing, it was also brought to our notice that the State of Punjab has constituted a Committee to carry out a thorough probe into the lapses that occurred during the Firozpur visit of the Hon’ble Prime Minister. The Committee comprised of a Former Judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court and Principal Secretary, Home Affairs and Justice, Government of Punjab. It was urged on behalf of learned Senior Counsel for the petitioner that since lapses in the breach of security of the Hon’ble Prime Minister are being seriously attributed to the authorities of the State of Punjab, the constitution of an Enquiry Committee by the State was nothing but an abortive attempt to become a Judge in its own cause.”
On the contrary, the Bench then reveals in para 7 that, “The State of Punjab, on the other hand, has placed on record copies of the show cause notices issued by the Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, Internal Security-I Division dated January 06, 2022 to various functionaries of the State of Punjab including its Chief Secretary and Director General of Police. The show cause notices required the officers to respond within 24 hours as to why disciplinary action under the All India Services (Discipline and Appeal) Rules, 1969 should not be initiated against them for their “omissions and commissions”. The learned Advocate General for the State of Punjab urged that the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India has, in a way, already held the officers of Government of Punjab ‘guilty’ of the alleged negligence and/or breach of security of the Hon’ble Prime Minister. He maintained that none of the agencies of the State Government had committed a dereliction of their responsibility for the security and safety of the Hon’ble Prime Minister, yet there is a smear campaign to discredit the State Government. All the same, the learned Advocate General for the State fairly offered that the State is more than willing to have an independent enquiry of the matter.”
To be honest, the Bench then while conceding the serious lapse in security observes after hearing both the parties in para 8 that, “We have heard learned counsel for the parties at considerable length and studied the provisions of the Special Protection Group Act, 1988 (for short, “the Act”) along with the relevant contents of the Blue Book. The legislative scheme of the Act is quite comprehensive with respect to ensuring proximate security of the Prime Minister, or a former Prime Minister, or their family members, as the case may be. The Blue Book contains an unambiguous and detailed procedure to be observed by the State Authorities and the Special Protection Group (for short, “SPG”) to ensure full safety and security of the Prime Minister while he is touring a State. The additional object is to avoid any human error, negligence or any willful omission or commission which may hamper and/or expose the safety and security of the Executive Head of the nation while he is travelling in a particular State. Any lapse in this regard can lead to devastating and serious consequences.”
While taking a very pragmatic stand, the Bench then minces no words to stipulate in para 9 that, “It is not necessary for us to elucidate more on facts as the lapse regarding the breach of security of the Prime Minister during his visit to Firozpur on 5th January, 2022 is not seriously disputed by either party. There is, however, a blame game between the State and Central Government as to who is responsible for such lapses. War of words between them is no solution. It may rather impair the need of a robust mechanism to respond at such a critical juncture.”
To be sure, the Bench then candidly concedes in para 10 on PM’s security lapse specifying that, “We, therefore, find merit in the submission of Shri Maninder Singh, learned Senior Counsel for the petitioner that not only are the Officer(s)/Authority responsible for the above-stated lapse liable to be identified, but there is also a greater urgency to evolve new measures that may ensure there is no recurrence of such lapses in the future.”
In the fitness of things, the Bench then specifies in para 11 stating that, “The learned Solicitor General appearing for the Union of India, supported the submission of the Petitioner and prayed for a detailed independent enquiry. The learned Advocate General for the State of Punjab also fairly expressed his willingness for an independent enquiry ordered by this Court.”
While taking a very well balanced stand, the Bench then holds in para 12 that, “Keeping the above submissions made by the parties in view, we are of the considered opinion that these questions cannot be left to be resolved through one-sided enquiries. A judicially trained independent mind, duly assisted by officers who are well acquainted with the security considerations and the Registrar General of the High Court who has seized the record pursuant to our earlier order, would be best placed to effectively visit all issues and submit a comprehensive report for the consideration of this Court.”
As we see, the Bench then enunciates in para 13 that, “We therefore deem it appropriate to appoint an Enquiry Committee comprising the following:
(i) Justice Indu Malhotra, a former Judge of the Supreme Court of India Chairperson;
(ii) Director General or his nominee not below the rank of Inspector General of Police of National Investigation Agency Member;
(iii) Director General of Police, Union Territory of Chandigarh-Member;
(iv) Additional Director General of Police (Security), State of Punjab- Member;
(v) Registrar General, Punjab and Haryana High Court-Member-cum-Coordinator.”
Furthermore, the Bench then stipulates in para 14 that, “The following are the Terms of Reference for the Enquiry Committee:
(i) What were the causes for the security breach for the incident on 5th January, 2022?
(ii) Who are responsible for such a breach, and to what extent?
(iii) What should be the remedial measures or safeguards necessary for the security of the Hon’ble Prime Minister or other Protectees?
(iv) Any suggestions or recommendations for improving the safety and security of other Constitutional functionaries.
(v) Any other incidental issue that the Committee may deem fit and proper.”
Of course, the Bench then underscores in para 15 that, “The Enquiry Committee is requested to submit its report at the earliest.”
Truth be told, the Bench then directs in para 16 that, “Let the entire record seized pursuant to our order dated 7th January, 2022, be handed over to the Chairperson of the Enquiry Committee within three days. The Union of India and State Government are directed to provide full assistance to the Enquiry Committee for completion of the assigned task.”
For the sake of clarity, the Bench then also mentions in para 17 that, “The Chairperson of the Enquiry Committee shall be entitled to all the perks of a sitting Supreme Court Judge minus pension. They shall be provided full secretarial assistance, official car and other paraphernalia for effective completion of the enquiry, as directed above.”
While leaving not even an iota of doubt, the Bench then clearly states in para 18 that, “Till conclusion of the proceedings of the Enquiry Committee constituted above, the enquiries ordered by the Central Government and the State Government shall be kept in abeyance.”
Finally, the Bench then concludes by directing in para 19 that, “List the matter after receipt of the Report of the Enquiry Committee.”
All in all, the Apex Court has clearly conceded that the security breach in PM security is serious and it has ordered a high level enquiry into it as already discussed hereinabove quite exhaustively. Let us not jump to speedy conclusions and wait till the enquiry is submitted in this regard as has been ordered by the Apex Court! We must keep our fingers completely crossed till then! There is no doubt that truth will certainly come out! It merits no reiteration that the PM is not an individual but represents an institution which is of a very high order and PM’s security has to be accorded always the highest priority and it is most refreshing to see that even the Apex Court has taken this serious breach in PM security most seriously!