Mangaluru Police Commissioner PS Harsha, and 175 policemen have been listed as witnesses by a panel conducting a magisterial inquiry into the violence that erupted in the coastal city during anti-Citizenship Act protests on December 19, PTI reported on Friday. Two persons were shot dead by the police, and a third suffered bullet injuries during the demonstrations, which forced the authorities to impose a curfew in several areas of Dakshina Kannada district and suspend mobile internet for 48 hours.
Udupi Deputy Commissioner G Jagadeesha, who is in charge of the inquiry, said notices asking the police personnel to appear for hearing would be served in a phased manner. So far, 203 members of the public have deposed before the committee, he added. “Former city Mayor K Ashraf, who is under treatment in hospital, has also provided a written statement.”
Ashraf told The Hindu he had deposed in his “capacity as an eyewitness to the police firing”. The former mayor claimed Harsha had called him on December 19, and urged him to pacify the protestors. He claimed he was hit by a hard object seconds after the police opened fire near the city’s State Bank Circle.
Jagadeesha said 12 police personnel would depose on February 25, and submit documents related to the firing. A separate date will be given to Harsha.
Earlier this week, the Karnataka High Court had observed that there was a deliberate attempt to cover up the Mangaluru Police’s excesses by implicating innocent people.
“The records indicate that a deliberate attempt has been made to fabricate evidence and to deprive the petitioners of their liberties,” the court observed while granting bail to 21 people arrested in connection with the violence. “Any criminal antecedents of the petitioners are not disputed... There is no direct evidence to connect the petitioners with the alleged offences. The investigation appears to be mala fide and partisan.” The 21 were arrested on charges of rioting, unlawful assembly and damage to property.
Justice Cunha said the overzealousness of the police was also evident from the fact that first information reports were registered against the two people killed in the police firing under under Section 307 of the Indian Penal Code (charges related to attempt to murder). “In an offence involving a large number of people, the identity and participation of each accused must be fixed with reasonable certainty,” The New Indian Express quoted him as saying. “In the present cases, the identity appears to have been fixed on the basis of their affiliation to PFI and they being members of the Muslim community.”
The High Court also cited photographs and CCTV footage to point out that the crowd was unarmed, except for one person who was holding a bottle. It also observed that the accused were not directly linked to the protests. “On the other hand, photographs produced by the petitioners show that the policemen themselves were pelting stones at the crowd,” the court added.
On December 19, more than 100 protestors had gathered near a bus stop close to the office of the deputy commissioner. The police beat them with batons and pushed them back after an argument broke out. The police claimed they charged the demonstrators with batons after they started hurling stones. Stone pelting was reported in the city’s Hamilton Circle, Central Market and State Bank areas. Protestors also allegedly hurled stones at the police in the Mukhyaprana Temple and Bunder areas. Shops in these areas were closed amid prohibitory orders. In the evening, the police fired shots in the air and a curfew was imposed in areas under the jurisdiction of five police stations. Large gatherings were also banned.