Centre attempts ‘bench selection’

It was wrong on the part of the central government to support the demand of some army officers to a Supreme Court bench to recuse itself from monitoring a CBI probe into several fake encounter killings in Manipur. The court had ordered investigation of as many as 1,528 cases of extrajudicial killings of civilians by security personnel in the state. The bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and UU Lalit who heard the case had reprimanded the CBI for going slow on the investigation. When it found that 14 persons who were charge-sheeted by the CBI had not been arrested, the judges had asked the agency why those people “who according to you are murderers are being allowed to roam the streets of Imphal.’’ The army men have told the court that this remark has created a “perception of bias’’ and apprehensions that it would affect their trial. The implication is that the judges are prejudiced. So, they have sought another bench to hear the case and monitor the investigation.  

Remarks made by judges during the hearing of a case are no indicators of the verdict in the case. They are responses to issues and matters that come to their attention. So, Justice Lokur’s remark cannot be taken as an indication that the bench has already decided that the 14 army men are guilty. The court’s question is, why the 14 who “according to the CBI’’ are murderers had not been arrested. Mukul Rohatgi, former attorney-general of India, who appeared for the army men, should very well know this. But he made the demand either to delay the case or to exert pressure on the judges. The amicus curiae and the victim groups’ advocate were right to term the plea as an attempt to browbeat the court. 

While the army men’s case is weak, the government’s support for it is bad and unacceptable. It shows that the government’s sympathy and backing is for those who are accused of egregious killings and very serious human rights violations. The government should be with the victim and the oppressed, not with the killer and the oppressor. There is evidence of fake encounter killings and other human rights violations committed on a large scale by the security forces in Manipur, acting under the cover of the draconian AFSPA. It is the duty of the government to help find the truth, punish those who are guilty and bring justice to the victims. Instead, it has tried to do ‘bench selection’ and become a party to unfair attempts to find wrong meaning in the comments of the country’s top court, undermining the cause of justice. 

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Centre attempts ‘bench selection’

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