The Supreme Court on Friday directed the Punjab and Haryana High Court to preserve travel records of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Punjab, during which an alleged security lapse had taken place, reported Bar and Bench.
On Wednesday, Modi had to abort his visit to Punjab’s Ferozepur, leading to a massive controversy. His convoy was stuck on a flyover for over 15 minutes as protestors had blocked the road to Hussainiwala village in the district. The Centre had termed it a “major security lapse”.
Advocate Mahinder Singh had raised the matter before Chief Justice of India NV Ramana on Thursday, saying that it needs to be ensured that such incidents are not repeated.
Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi had dismissed the claim of “security lapse” and said there was no threat at all to the prime minister’s security. He, however, expressed regret for what had happened.
During Friday’s hearing, the court directed officials of the Punjab Police, the Special Protection Group and other central and state agencies to provide necessary assistance to the registrar general of the the High Court, who is required to keep all the travel records in his safe custody.
The bench led by Ramana also appointed Chandigarh Director General of Police Praveer Ranjan and an official of the National Investigation Agency to help the registrar general.
The court listed the matter for hearing on January 10 and said that the investigation committees appointed by the state and central governments to not function till then.
Senior Advocate Maninder Singh, appearing for the petitioner, said that the incident was not a law and order matter and needed to be investigated professionally. Singh said that the state cannot conduct an investigation in the case.
“In this trip, there was an impermissible stoppage of PM’s cavalcade and this is highest breach,” Singh said. “This cannot happen.”
Singh also alleged that the chairperson of the three-member committee appointed by the Punjab government, retired High Court Justice Mehtab Singh Gill, was involved in a service scam.
“Police authority had also probed the conduct of this judge,” he said. “Supreme Court had earlier held that this judge had targeted a police officer who had probed his case.”
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the court that a car travels in front of the prime minister’s cavalcade to check for any threat perception. Mehta alleged that the designated car saw the local superintendent of the police having tea with the protestors.
“Here cavalcade was in the flyover and if the protesters would have gathered in the back of the flyover imagine what would have happened,” the solicitor general alleged. “Here there was a mob and shouting.”
Mehta suggested that the incident can be a matter of “cross border terrorism” and urged the court not to appoint a National Investigation Agency official to deal with it.
The solicitor general also described the incident as “rarest of the rare cases”.
“This is a sui generis [of its own kind] case of the international embarrassment of the prime minister of the country,” he added.
Punjab Advocate General DS Patwalia argued that the state was not taking the incident lightly. He told the court that the state government formed a committee to look into the matter on the same day as the incident and that it was was not an afterthought.
Patwalia also told the court that a first information report has been filed in connection with the case.
“Our CM [Charanjit Singh Channia] has said that Mr Modi is our prime minister,” the advocate general said. “Even though the petition reeks of politics, we are not against it.”
On the allegations against the committee’s chairperson, Patwalia said that he cannot argue on it. But, he pointed out that the inspector general of police of the Special Protection Group was a member of the Centre’s panel on the matter.
He said that the official was responsible for the prime minister’s security and cannot be a judge on its own case.
What happened on Wednesday?
Modi landed in Bathinda on Wednesday morning and was supposed to fly to the National Martyrs Memorial in Hussainiwala. Later, he was scheduled to go to a rally in a helicopter.
The Centre said the trip was delayed by bad weather. Since the visibility did not improve, he finally travelled via road. The convoy was stuck around 30 km from the memorial as protesting farmers blocked the road.
Central agencies like the Intelligence Bureau should have anticipated protests as the route to Hussainiwala passes through Kotkapura, Faridkot and Ferozepur – the epicenter of the agitation against the farm laws, The Quint reported.
At a press conference, the Punjab chief minister said the change of plan to travel by road was not conveyed to the state government. “We were informed by the Prime Minister’s Office that he would be travelling by helicopter,” Channi said. “It was at the spot that a decision to travel by road was taken by their [central] agencies and officers.”
However, the Centre claimed that the state police had given clearance for Modi to travel by road.
Channi said that officers had persuaded some protesting farmers the previous night to end their agitation but others had gathered in Ferozepur.
“Farmers have their demands and today, if some people were peacefully protesting here, then it should not be seen as a threat to Prime Minister’s security,” he said. “I appeal to all, especially the BJP, to not indulge in politics on the issue. There was no such thing, which had put him security under threat in Punjab.”