A court in Delhi on Thursday expressed displeasure at the absence of special public prosecutors at the hearing of a case related to the riots that took place in the national capital in February last year.

Additional Sessions Judge Virender Bhat of the Karkardooma court was hearing a case involving an alleged attack on Hindus by a mob of Muslims at Shiv Vihara Tiraha. A man identified as Alok Tiwari had died after being injured in the violence.

The accused persons in the case have been charged for murder, rioting, unlawful assembly and criminal conspiracy.

A total of 53 people, mostly Muslims, had died after clashes broke about between supporters of the Citizenship Amendment Act and those opposing it in North East Delhi between February 23 and February 26, 2020. The Act had triggered protests across the country as it introduced religious criteria for Indian citizenship for the first time.

On Thursday, Bhat said that cases related to the riots were very sensitive and for effective prosecution, the police had assigned them to a panel of special public prosecutors.

The judge added that Special Public Prosecutor Amit Prasad was called to appear before the court but he said he was busy with another matter in the Delhi High Court. Two witnesses who had appeared before the court could not be examined because of Prasad’s absence.

After Prasad said he could not appear before the court, another special public prosecutor, DK Bhatia, was asked to come. “[He] also expressed his inability to appear in the case,” Bhat said in an order.

A third special public prosecutor, Madhukar Pandey, also did not respond positively, the judge added.

“This is the state of affairs with regards to these riot cases which are very sensitive in nature,” Bhat said. “The court has found in several cases that special public prosecutors to whom cases are assigned do not appear, on account of which cases have to be adjourned without conducting any proceedings, thereby resulting in the delay of their disposal.”

Bhat added that the lawyers of the defendants have also objected to the absence of special public prosecutors, due to which the cases are adjourned and their clients have to stay in jail longer.

The judge pointed out that he had previously asked the deputy commissioner of police in North East Delhi to rectify the situation.

“Let a copy of this order too be sent to the DCP, North East, who is impressed upon to take this aspect seriously and appoint further Special PPs [public prosecutors] to represent the state in these riot cases,” Bhat said. He sought a report from the police on this in one week.