Delhi courts deal with Tablighi, Nirbhaya cases online

Amid pandemic, Delhi courts deal with Tablighi, Nirbhaya, CAA cases virtually

About one-fourth of the courts have now been conducting physical hearings daily since September

Representative Image. Credit: iStock

Delhi courts quickly adopted technology to counter the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown and heard important cases related to Delhi communal riots in February and also violations of visa norms by foreigner Tablighi Jamaat members in 2020.

Before entering the uncharted waters of hearing through video conferencing, a trial court had to reschedule thrice the date of execution of four convicts in the Nirbhaya gang rape and murder case on several occasions because of various applications moved by them, which the judge termed as “delaying tactics”. Finally, they were hanged on March 20 at 5.30 am.

While entertaining all their applications, the court said however that a condemned convict has the right to exhaust his legal remedies and no court could afford to ignore his fundamental rights.

During the virtual hearings following the lockdown on March 25, there were glitches initially -- lawyers struggling with video-conferencing and e-filing, daily orders not being uploaded on courts’ websites, judges as well as advocates facing network issues and hence being forced to come to courts physically to avail the video-conferencing facilities and so on.

The Covid-19 infection also affected the work at the trial courts. In one instance, almost the entire staff of a judge looking after the north-east Delhi riots cases, was affected and hospitalised.

Judges and the lawyers, however, were quick to respond to all the setbacks. As soon as a judge or court staff got infected with Covid-19, the courtrooms and chambers were sealed, sanitised and circulars issued for contact tracing and quarantine.

About one-fourth of the courts have now been conducting physical hearings daily since September.

Cases related to the riots, in which 53 people were killed and 200 injured, kept Delhi courts busy. A court termed it as the "worst communal riots since partition" in Delhi and a "gaping wound" in the conscience of a nation aspiring to be a "major global power".

On the directions of the Delhi High Court, four special courts were created at Karkardooma District Courts complex to conduct day-to-day hearings in the 755 FIRs lodged in connection to the riots.

In the 755 FIRs, 395 charge sheets have been filed, including one charge sheet running over 17,000 pages in the case related to premeditated conspiracy in the riots.

Suspended AAP Councillor Tahir Hussain, former Congress Councillor Ishrat Jahan, JNU students Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal, Jamia Millia Islamia student Asif Iqbal Tanha, activist Khalid Saifi, former JNU student leader Umar Khalid and JNU student Sharjeel Imam were among those named as accused in the conspiracy charge sheet and booked under the stringent UAP Act.

While in some cases the courts passed strong remarks against the accused, in others they pulled up the police for flaws in the investigation.

There were several instances where the courts came to the rescue of the accused and granted them bail while rebuking the police for discrepancies.

The police also bore the brunt of the court in the case in which 955 foreigners were charge-sheeted for attending the Tablighi Jamaat congregation at Nizamuddin here in March by allegedly being negligent and disobeying the government guidelines on Covid-19.

The trial was conducted on a fast-track basis on the directions of the Supreme Court and was completed in December.

After five writs, 955 plea bargains, 955 bail pleas, 80 revision petitions, 29 quashing petitions and 44 discharge applications, the trial court on December 15 acquitted 36 foreigners, who faced trial, of all charges.

Of the 955 foreigners, eight were discharged of all charges and others were allowed to walk free on payment of fines.

While acquitting the foreigners, the court came down heavily on the police and questioned their evidence, the way the foreigners were identified from among the 2,343 people and SHO's laxity in ensuring dispersal of the gathering.

In another highlight, the proceedings in criminal defamation complaint filed by former Union minister M J Akbar against journalist Priya Ramani for accusing him of sexual harassment 20 years ago, remained in final hearing throughout the year facing a number of twists and turns in the process.

Firstly the proceedings were suspended for months due to the pandemic, then Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (ACMM) Vishaj Pahuja, who had started hearing the final arguments in the case on February 7, sought transfer of the matter on October 13, saying his was a special MP/MLA court.

On October 22, District & Sessions Judge, Rouse Avenue, New Delhi refused to transfer the case from the court, which had been hearing the case since 2018.

Judge Pahuja, however, was on November 18 transferred to another court by the Delhi High Court.

ACMM Ravindra Kumar Pandey, who replaced judge Pahuja, started hearing the final arguments afresh on November 21.

Another controversial case related to Jammu and Kashmir DSP (suspended) Davinder Singh getting bail by a court on June 19 in a terror case filed by Delhi Police after it failed to file a charge sheet on time. Singh, however, remains in jail in another case lodged by the NIA.

On October 26, former Union minister during erstwhile NDA government, Dilip Ray, was awarded 3-year jail term in a coal scam case, while on July 30, ex-Samta party Party president Jaya Jaitly, along with two others, was awarded 4-year jail term for corruption in a 2000-01 case related to a purported defence deal. The Delhi High Court is reviewing both the cases.