The Delhi High Court on Friday sought Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal’s response to a plea filed by the Aam Aadmi Party government challenging his decision on the appointment of lawyers to represent the Delhi Police in court cases related to the February 2020 riots and the violence during farmers’ protest on January 26, reported Live Law.
On February 26, the Delhi police had requested the government’s home department to appoint 11 lawyers as special public prosecutors to deal with trials, appeals, bail pleas and all other miscellaneous matters in connection with these cases.
In the first week of July, Baijal had written to the Delhi government, asking it to consider the matter in a Cabinet meeting. He had said that the cases were sensitive in nature and needed careful handling in a time-bound banner.
But the Kejriwal-led government rejected the list of lawyers proposed by the Delhi Police. It had decided that the Delhi government-appointed prosecutors would handle the case.
The AAP government claimed that the Centre was putting pressure on the Delhi Cabinet through the lieutenant governor to approve the Delhi Police list. It said that the Cabinet was of the view that approving the list of lawyers suggested by the Delhi Police would hamper legal parity and be unfair to the accused, who have a right to an unbiased trial.
The lieutenant governor then referred the matter to President Ram Nath Kovind, citing differences of opinion. The lieutenant governor also told the Delhi government that he has exercised his power under the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Act and appointed the lawyers named by the Delhi Police since it was an urgent matter.
It was the first time the lieutenant governor referred such a matter to the president since the Centre notified the amended Act in April. The law significantly expands the powers of the Centre-appointed lieutenant governor of Delhi, at the cost of the elected Assembly.
In its plea before the High Court, the Delhi government argued that the appointment of the special public prosecutors was a routine matter and did not need to be referred to the president. Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing the Delhi government, argued that this negatively affected federalism.
Singhvi alleged that the lieutenant governor has been regularly interfering in the appointment of lawyers and undermining the elected Delhi government.
“Repeated invocation of reference power to nullify the very essence [of the matter] is wrong,” Singh said. “This is the third time this reference power is used to nullify the elected government’s mandate. Your Lordships would not want to allow such misuse.”
He submitted that it would be a serious conflict of interest for the Delhi police to select the lawyers, PTI reported. Singhvi said that doing so impinged upon the constitutional guarantee of a fair trial.
Singhvi cited a Supreme Court verdict in 2018 that held that the lieutenant governor of Delhi is bound by the “aid and advice” of the council of ministers of the Delhi government in all matters under its jurisdiction.
“The lieutenant governor can refer differences of opinion under Article 239AA (4) to the president only in exceptional matters,” the court had then said.
The advocate also pointed to another Supreme Court judgement that the power to appoint a special public prosecutor rests with the Delhi government.
The High Court has listed the matter for hearing on October 21.
Clashes had broken out between the supporters of the Citizenship Amendment Act and those opposing it between February 23 and February 26, 2020, in North East Delhi that claimed 53 lives and injured hundreds. The police were accused of either inaction or complicity in some instances of violence, mostly in Muslim neighbourhoods.
The Delhi Police claim the violence was part of a larger conspiracy to defame Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and was planned by those who organised the protests against the amended Citizenship Amendment Act.
They also claim that the protestors had secessionist motives and were using “the facade of civil disobedience” to destabilise the government. The police have arrested several activists and students based on these “conspiracy” charges.
Farm laws and Republic Day violence
During the Republic Day violence, at least one protestor was killed and over 300 police officers were injured after a section of farmers protesting against the government’s agriculture laws took to the streets of Delhi on tractors, horses and on foot to call for the repeal of the legislations.
Protestors broke through barricades and poured into the city, clashing with a police force that tried to push them back with tear gas and a baton charge. One group of protestors forced their way into the Red Fort. A few protestors also climbed a flagstaff and hoisted the Nishan Sahib, a religious flag that flies atop gurudwaras.
The Delhi Police again claimed the incident was a “deep-rooted conspiracy” to embarrass India. They filed a case under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in connection with the incident and invoked sedition charges.
Thousands of farmers have camped at the borders of Delhi since November, firm on their demand that the central government repeal the three laws that open up the country’s agriculture markets to private companies. The agitation against the farm laws has been particularly fierce in Punjab.
The protesting farmers fear the central government’s new laws will make them vulnerable to corporate exploitation and would dismantle the minimum support price regime. The Centre, however, says that the laws will give farmers more access to markets and boost production through private investment.