On Tuesday, the Punjab and Haryana High Court ordered that no coercive action be taken against BJP leader Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga till July 6, which is next day of the hearing. However, while granting protection from arrest, the High Court has restricted the police’s power to interrogate Bagga, which lawyers deem highly unusual.

Bagga was arrested by the Punjab Police under Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups), 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, for allegedly making provocative statements against Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

Bagga’s case has been peculiar from the start. First, it saw a three-way tussle between the Delhi, Haryana and Punjab police forces regarding his custody, followed by a midnight hearing at a judge’s residence. And now this order, which many lawyers claim is the first they have seen.

Court’s order

The court ordered that Bagga should not be arrested till the next day of the hearing. It added that if the police wanted to interrogate Bagga, they could only do it at his place of residence in Delhi. Such interrogation can only be carried out twice, for a maximum of one hour at once, between 10 am and 5 pm and in the presence of Bagga’s counsel.

Further, the police’s interrogation team shall not consist of more than three people and should be led by an officer not below the rank of an Indian Police Service officer.

Lastly, the court said that the police must not file a chargesheet till the next day of the hearing.

Peculiarity of conditions

Several lawyers told Scroll.in that while it is fair for the court to grant Bagga protection from arrest, given the charges against him carry a punishment of less than seven years, the conditions that the court has imposed are uncommon.

Advocate Shahrukh Alam said, “These conditions, such as limited hours of questioning and letting the lawyers be present during interrogation, are things we as defence counsels fight for every day. However, they are not granted by courts. It’s good that the court has granted these privileges, but it would seem fairer if it were standardised and provided to all suspects and witnesses across the board.”

However, she added, “The condition that the chargesheet cannot be filed until the next date of the hearing is an interference with police’s powers to conclude the investigation and to press charges at the earliest. This is unusual.”

Advocate Talha Abdul Rahman said, “I have not seen an order that prescribes so many conditions.”

He said, “The nitty-gritty of the investigation is for the investigating officer to decide. Thus, for the high court to specify where and how the investigation will be conducted is an overstretch.”

He explained while the court is within its powers to pass orders such as these, the exceptions provided under law were not applicable in Bagga’s case: “For instance, the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 says that the women and senior citizens should not be interrogated at a police station. Further, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 specifies that officers above the rank of deputy superintendent of police can carry out investigations.”

Rahman added, “Usually when the court allows a lawyer to be present while interrogation, they say that the lawyer should be in the visible distance and not audible distance.”