NEW DELHI — The Delhi Police has challenged the order that Additional Sessions Judge Amitabh Rawat of the Karkardooma district court passed on 21 October, telling the police to provide hard copies of the 18,325 chargesheet in the conspiracy case of the Delhi riots to the accused.
The Delhi Police has arrested 21 people in FIR 59/2020, the conspiracy case of the Delhi riots, and charged 15, including students and activists who led the movement against the Citizenship Amendment Act, with terrorism, murder and conspiracy.
The Delhi Police, which reports to the Home Ministry in the Narendra Modi government, filed an application before the Delhi High Court on 3 November, calling Judge Rawat’s order “mechanical,” “ex-facie erroneous” and “devoid of any merits.”
In the application, Special Public Prosecutor Amit Prasad highlighted the volume of the chargesheet — 18,325 pages, and argued that providing a digital copy via a pen drive satisfied Section 4 of the Information Technology Act — “legal recognition of electronic records” — and Section 4 read with Section 81 of the IT Act — Act to have overriding effect — overrides Section 207 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), the provision that tells the police to provide the chargesheet free of cost to the accused.
Indian law, the public prosecutor says, does not make a distinction between a hard copy and soft copy, and the word copy in Section 207 does not mean “photocopy,” “but a thing meant just like another.” To buttress this argument, the public prosecutor said that the CrPC dated back to 1898, but photocopy machines were only invented in 1938 and sold in 1959.
India presently follows CrPC, 1978.
The application also said the investigating agency — in this case, the Delhi Police — does not have any funds for getting copies of the chargesheet prepared, and has “limited resources.”
The need for a hard copy had to be understood from the perspective of the accused, and the fact that prisons in India do not have the infrastructure to support this kind of digitisation at this time, said legal experts. How many prisons in the smaller towns and cities, or even the large ones, would be equipped with laptops and computers for inmates? Even if a prison had a computer for prisoners to use, what if the accused does not know how to use it. And what if a lawyer was not at ease working with a digitised chargesheet.
In a hearing on the matter in Justice Suresh Kait’s court on 4 November, Delhi Police was represented Additional Solicitor General SV Raju. The next hearing is on 6 November.
“They are making mockery of the court proceedings by making trivialising arguments like there was no photocopies in 1898. This is frivolous litigation. This is high school level bullying. People’s life and liberty is at risk,” said a defense lawyer in the Delhi riots conspiracy case, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Defense lawyers in the Delhi riots conspiracy case said they received the application shortly before a hearing was scheduled to take place on 3 November in Additional Sessions Judge Amitabh Rawat’s court to follow up on his 21 October order.
In this district court hearing, even as his 21 October order is now up for challenge in the Delhi High Court, Judge Rawat reiterated that providing a hardcopy of the chargesheet was required under Indian law.
“My understanding still is that a physical copy of the chargesheet has to be supplied under 207 and I took recourse to the proviso that if it is voluminous then you can inspect,” he said. “My understanding is that a physical copy has to be supplied. There may be cases in which a lawyer is not familiar.”