A Delhi court on Wednesday dropped arson charges against 10 people who had allegedly damaged shops during the communal violence in Delhi in February 2020. The court noted that the police was “attempting to cover” a flaw in its investigation, PTI reported.

Several properties were damaged amid clashes that had broken out between supporters of the Citizenship Amendment Act and those opposing it between February 23 and February 26, 2020, in North East Delhi. At least 53 people had died in the violence, and hundreds injured. A majority of those killed were Muslims.

On Wednesday, Additional Sessions Judge Vinod Yadav was examining complaints made by two Delhi-based shopkeepers who had alleged that their shops had been damaged during the violence. One of the complainants alleged that his shop was looted at Delhi’s Brijpuri Road on February 25, 2020. The other shopkeeper claimed that two of his shops were looted on February 24.

The judge noted that the police had clubbed the two complaints, which he said cannot be done until there is clear evidence that the same rioters were involved in both the incidents.

The judge also observed that none of the complaints, in their initial statements, mentioned that a mob committed “mischief by fire or [an] explosive substance” – something that would suggest a case of arson.

One of the complainants had said that he had given a supplementary statement about the arson charges. The court said an investigation agency cannot cover up flaws by later recording supplementary statements if the offence of arson had not been mentioned in initial complaints.

“In view of the aforesaid discussion, I am of the considered view that ingredients of Section 436 of the Indian Penal Code [mischief by fire or explosive substance] are not at all made out from the material produced on record by the investigating agency,” the judge said.

The judge also clarified that arson charges cannot be framed based on the statements of police officials who were beat officers in the area at the time of the incident.

Yadav directed the case to be transferred to the chief metropolitan magistrate.

Investigation in Delhi violence cases

In several cases related to the violence in the national capital, courts have pointed out flaws in investigations carried out by the Delhi Police.

In a similar judgement as the one on Wednesday, a Delhi court had earlier this month, cleared a 22-year-old of arson charges after observing that the initial complaint against him did not mention “mischief by fire or an explosive substance”.

The court had urged the police and other investigation agencies to treat cases pertaining to the violence with “utmost sensitivity”.

In September alone, the Delhi courts have rebuked the police four times for lackadaisical investigation into cases related to the violence.

On Friday, a Delhi court, while examining a complaint of vandalism, had said that if the police do not ensure effective prosecution of the cases, it will have to pass “adverse orders” against officers.

On September 3, while discharging three accused in the violence, a court had said that the police had failed to conduct a fair investigation and to ensure justice to the victims.

Further, in at least three cases, courts have pointed to irregularities in the manner in which FIRs were filed. On some occasions, the police filed multiple cases in the same police station for the same incident. In other cases, it clubbed multiple complaints in a single FIR, Scroll.in found out.