NEW DELHI — A Delhi magistrate has denied Devangana Kalita permission to access video footage that the Delhi Police is using to build a case of murder against her in connection with the Delhi riots.
As a consequence, the 32-year-old graduate student of Jawaharlal Nehru University, and a co-founder of a women’s collective called Pinjra Tod, who was arrested and re-arrested in four cases in the span of ten days in May and June, still does not have access to crucial video footage that could help her mount a defense.
While the relevant First Information Report (FIR) in this murder case was registered on 26 February, and two chargesheets — the main and a supplementary — followed in June and August, Metropolitan Magistrate Fahad Uddin of the Karkardooma District Court on a Monday ruled that that until a magistrate takes cognisance of the murder case — i.e. recognise that a crime has been committed within the court’s jurisdiction — the accused does not have permission to obtain the video footage at this stage in the legal proceedings.
The duty magistrate on 13 June 2020 had also refused Kalita access to the video footage on similar grounds.
While Kalita’s lawyer Adit Pujari argued that the video evidence being used by the police was crucial for them to mount a defence, almost eight months after the FIR was registered, the magistrate said that they would have to wait for the appropriate time and then make a request for the video footage.
Pujari argued that the time for taking cognisance should have arrived after the main charge sheet was filed in June and the supplementary one in August.
In this order of 19 October, Magistrate Uddin said the case was not taken cognisance of because of the delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
He wrote the delay was because “of the limited functioning of the subordinate courts during the Covid-19 pandemic, non-production of accused persons before the court, and as well as the fact that time and again the case file has been requisitioned by the Ld Sessions Court for passing orders”.
Pujari, Kalita’s lawyer, declined to comment for this report.
Most of the 53 people killed in the Delhi riots were Muslim. The Delhi Police is blaming the riots on the students and activists who led the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in December and January.
FIR 50/2020 Jafrabad Police Station is a Delhi riots case in which 12 people, including JNU students Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal, are charged with murder over the killing of one Aman, a Muslim. The accused, except Kalita and Narwal, are Muslim.
The police say Kalita and Narwal instigated the local residents of Northeast Delhi to gather under the Jafrabad metro station and block the roads to protest against the CAA, triggering the communal riots in February. The police say that while the anti-CAA protestors started pelting stones at the pro-CAA protesters, and they were shooting at people below the waist, Aman was killed in the crossfire by a bullet from the anti-CAA side.
HuffPost India has previously reported that the Delhi Police waited for five months before writing to the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation on 30 July 2020 to preserve the video footage captured by the surveillance cameras installed at the Jafrabad metro station and the Maujpur metro station, 1.5 kilometres apart from each other. The DMRC promptly replied, three days later on 2 August, stating that they delete their footage after seven days.
The video footage being referred to in FIR 50/2020 is in addition to the DMRC footage.
Public Prosecutor Rajeev Krishan Sharma appearing for the Delhi Police also said that the pen drive containing all the video clips of the rioting between 22 and 22 February was not part of the chargesheet.
The seizure memo of this item appears in the chargesheet of the case.
Other DVDs, CDs containing video clips of the incident, the scenes under the Jafrabad metro station on 22-23 February, photos of the accused persons, were deposited with the CFSL (Central Forensic Science Laboratory), run by the Home Ministry, and expert opinion is still awaited.
Magistrate Uddin said that Kalita was not entitled to all the videos of the Delhi Police had collected at this stage, but her lawyer could make an application for it at the appropriate stage during the trial since the material had been disclosed in the chargesheet.
On the items with the CFSL, Uddin also directed the Director of the CFSL to expedite the results and the filing of the supplementary chargesheet. He told the defense to move an application for these items once the results were obtained.
In this order of 19 October, the magistrate refers to previous Supreme Court judgments that say an accused has access to all relevant material which is not only part of the chargesheet, but the police have relied on to build its case, and also material that could help the accused.
On whether the relevant footage could be misused by the accused to the detriment of the victim and society, Magistrate Uddin said that giving the accused, Kalita, access to all the video clips procured by the Delhi Police to investigate the Delhi riots, when the investigation is ongoing, when the trial is yet to commence, would be detrimental to the case of the prosecution and society at large.