After a serious lapse by the Delhi Police revealed the names and addresses of 15 witnesses whose identities they were supposed to protect, a Delhi judge has recalled soft copies of the related chargesheet and ordered destruction of any prints.
In an order dated 9 October, Additional Sessions Judge Amitabh Rawat of the Karkardooma district court ordered the lawyers of the accused in FIR 59/2020 Crime Branch to return the pen drives with a soft copy of chargesheet that was filed on 16 September, 2019, and to destroy any prints.
Public Prosecutor Amit Prasad told Rawat that at least three protected witnesses have been approached by persons with various interests, in relation to the present case.
The lawyers, Rawat said, would be furnished with a new soft copy of the
more than 17,000 page chargesheet of the “conspiracy case,” which pins the Delhi Riots on young political activists and students, including former Jawaharlal Nehru University student Umar Khalid, and invokes India’s anti-terror law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
53 people were killed in the Delhi riots in February.
The more than 17,000 page chargesheet of the “conspiracy case,” which pins the Delhi Riots on young political activists and students, and invokes India’s anti-terror law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) was filed on 16 September, 2019.
Most of 53 people killed in the Delhi riots were Muslim.
In a statement earlier this week, the Delhi Police said that it had “inadvertently” disclosed the names and addresses of 15 protected witnesses including four Hindus and 11 Muslims, and the dates on which they had recorded their statements before a magistrate.
Speaking with The Quint, two protected witnesses said this lapse puts a very real threat to their life. One witness said they had no knowledge of being a protected witness.
Siddharth Luthra, a leading criminal lawyer, said the Delhi Police’s lapse was an offence under Section 44(3)(c) of UAPA and Section 17 of the NIA (National Investigation Agency) Act, which deals with protection of witnesses.
In June, the Delhi Police had requested the Patiala district court to keep hidden the identities of public witnesses and submission of truncated statements under Section 161 and 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code, noting that they had expressed fear for their lives.
Public Prosecutor Prasad told Rawat that the chargesheet was “very lengthy, bulky and voluminous,” and the names of some protected witnesses were “inadvertently” disclosed “by way of attaching untruncated judicial and investigation papers in the chargesheet, which is neither intentional nor deliberate.”
Prasad said that it was necessary to extract the relevant document from the judicial file that is with the court, replace it with a truncated version, seal the original and keep it on the record.
Prasad asked the court to direct the accused, their lawyers, and associates not to divulge, publish disclose, disseminate, or disclose the identity of the public protected witnesses, try and contact them directly or indirectly, return the soft copies of the chargesheet supplied to them in court, obtain a fresh soft copy of the chargesheet in a new pen drive, and destroy any prints made of the chargesheet supplied.
Prasad said, “The life, safety, and security of the protected witnesses are of paramount importance.”
Rawat said, “In view of the court, there is a mistake on part of the Investigating Officer, and since the purpose of giving protection to the identity of the protected witnesses is for fair trial and for specific protection to the witnesses, hence, the immediate protection order are required to be passed.”
Rawat said, “The return of the pen drive shall also pertain to the one supplied to the court itself. The record where the disclosure of protected witnesses has happened in the judicial file and redacted version of the said record shall be filed in court.”
Rawat said that “no legitimate right of the accused persons are curtailed by the disposal of this application.”