The Delhi High Court on Monday pulled up the police for the leak of an accused’s purported disclosure statement to the media before filing the chargesheet, reported Bar and Bench. The court was hearing a plea filed by Jamia Millia Islamia student Asif Iqbal Tanha in connection with the conspiracy case related to the Northeast Delhi riots.

The single-judge bench of Justice Mukta Gupta called the police’s vigilance inquiry report into the matter “half-baked”, “a useless piece of paper”, and “worse than…what they do in an ordinary theft case”. Noticing that only four or five statements had been recorded over a period of four months from September to January, the court pointed out that the file does not even show “who conducted the vigilance inquiry”, reported The Indian Express.

The judge added:

“Do you want me to comment on this vigilance inquiry? I will say this is a useless paper and rather it is contempt of court that this court had asked for a proper inquiry to be conducted on your own statement where you thought it was a matter of national importance and you were also aggrieved that your investigation papers have been leaked… and see this vigilance inquiry. This vigilance inquiry is worse than even a routine PG [Public Grievance] Cell inquiry… what they do in an ordinary theft case.”

— Justice Mukta Gupta

The judge asked the special commissioner of police (vigilance), Delhi, to appear before it and posted the matter for further hearing on March 5. “Your Special CP will come and explain how it [the allegation of leak] is unsubstantiated,” the court said. “The allegation is substantiated. If you can’t do it in your vigilance inquiry, orders will have to be passed [by the court]. These [media leaks] need to be controlled for fairness to accused, fairness to investigation and purity of investigation.”

Advocate Amit Mahajan, who appeared for the Delhi Police, said the leak was “undesirable” and mentioned that even the investigating agency was aggrieved by it.

The court, however, clarified that it was not holding the police “solely responsible” for the leak. “You have to find out when leak took is also is your property. You are entitled to take action in law,” it added.

In his petition filed last year, Asif Iqbal Tanha alleged that the police officials had leaked his “confession statement” to the media. He had stated that based on the leaked information, two media outlets – OpIndia and Zee Media – carried news reports claiming Tanha’s guilt. “Confession statements” are not admissible as evidence in court.

During the hearing on Monday, Tanha’s counsel advocate Siddharth Aggarwal claimed that all accused in the case were facing the same problem – leaks to media. “Supplementary chargesheet was filed in the matter and media has passages after passages...Whatever be their [police] position, they should come and give assistance to the court,” said Agarwal.

The court has asked Aggarwal to state the criminal offences that arise out of the media leak.

Tanha and the Delhi violence

Tanha was arrested in May under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. He is among the 15 people named in FIR 59/2020 filed by the Delhi Police in the riots conspiracy case. Tanha is a third-year student of BA Persian language. The police claimed that he played an active role in orchestrating the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act. The police has also alleged that he is a close associate of Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam, Meeran Haider and Safoora [Zargar] who had been the “key members of anti-CAA protests and subsequent riots in the national Capital”.

Clashes had broken out between supporters of the Citizenship Amendment Act and those opposing it between February 23 and 26 last year in North East Delhi, killing at least 53 people and injuring hundreds. The police were accused of either inaction or complicity in some instances of violence, mostly in Muslim neighbourhoods. The violence was the worst in Delhi since the anti-Sikh riots of 1984.

The Delhi Police claim that 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 claimed 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.