Haryana setting dangerous example

Haryana setting dangerous example

Haryana setting dangerous example

Coming under pressure from the politically dominant Jat community,  the BJP government in Haryana has withdrawn all the criminal cases filed against 882 people during the violent Jat quota agitation in February 2016 in which 30 people were killed and public property worth hundreds of crores were damaged. The district magistrates have been directed to initiate the process of withdrawal of cases immediately. Most of these cases pertain to rioting, unlawful assembly, wrongful restraint, disobedience of orders promulgated by a public servant and obstructing public servants from discharging their duty. Recall that there was also an episode of horrific mass rape along the route that the agitators withdrew. Justifying the decision to withdraw the cases, Haryana Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Krishan Kumar Bedi claimed that it was taken on "humanitarian grounds" and cited precedents of previous governments withdrawing similar cases in the past. However, the timing of the announcement is significant. The decision follows a clear threat by an influential organisation of the community to disrupt a motorcycle rally to be led by BJP chief Amit Shah in Haryana this week.  

The Manohar Lal Khattar government is not known for its handling of law and order situations. Its handling of the Jat quota stir and riots, or of the violence that followed the conviction and arrest of Baba Ram Rahim, has in the past drawn flak from the higher judiciary. Wholesale withdrawal of cases relating to the Jat quota agitation reflects the government's scant regard for law and order in the state. It also exposes the government to similar blackmailing tactics by politically influential community groups in the future. The example set by the Haryana government could also prompt other state governments to tinker with administration of criminal justice for political expediency. In a similar vein, the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh has already started withdrawing politically sensitive cases pertaining to communal violence against BJP foot soldiers.  

Section 321 of the Criminal Procedure Code provides that the public prosecutor may withdraw any case before the pronouncement of judgement. But this can be done only with the consent of the court, and there are several examples of the courts rejecting the government's request to withdraw cases for political expediency. The Haryana government's decision to withdraw cases wholesale  is a fit case for judicial intervention in public interest. The Punjab and Haryana High Court, which is monitoring the cases pertaining to the Jat quota violence, should intervene and stop the process. Maintenance of law and order is the most fundamental responsibility of the state government. No government should be allowed to bring in politics to the detriment of the discharge of this constitutional obligation. If the rule of law has to have any meaning, politics should be scrupulously kept out of it.

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