Punjab farmer’s death: Supreme Court refuses to stay judicial probe ordered by Punjab and Haryana High Court

The Supreme Court refused to stay the judicial probe ordered by the Punjab and Haryana High Court into the death of a 22-year-old farmer during the agitation of farmers at the Punjab-Haryana border.

A bench comprising Justice Surya Kant and Justice KV Viswanathan said that those who had approached the High Court for judicial probe have some genuine apprehensions. Justice Kant stated that the allegations are against Haryana Police and that it should come up before the High Court on April 10.

Furthermore, the bench also turned down the contention of the Haryana government that the order will impact the morale of the police force. The court remarked that the apprehension has no basis. The Supreme Court was hearing an appeal filed by the Haryana government challenging a Punjab and Haryana High Court order.

Earlier on February 7, the High Court had ordered the setting up of a committee of a retired High Court judge and two Additional Director Generals of Police (ADGP) to investigate the farmer’s death. The farmer from Bathinda in Punjab, was killed last month in clashes between security personnel and the farmers at the Khanauri border. 

The order under question was passed by the High Court while hearing a matter related to the farmer protests. It was directed that the committee to be set up be headed by retired Justice Jaishree Thakur.

During the hearing today, Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta, representing the State, questioned the registration of First Information Report (FIR). He asked that if every incident police have to register FIR then how will they maintain law and order. He also referred to the seriousness of the situation during protests and contended that no one can function like this in front of swords, weapons and tanks.

The SG asserted that sixty-seven policemen were injured during the protests, adding that a judge’s function was not to investigate. Nonetheless, the top court said that the High Court was only concerned with the one small issue of the homicidal death and that judges have been appointed in the past as well to infuse transparency and fairness.

The apex court rejected the contention of SG Mehta that the Police will be demoralised by such an order for judicial probe. The court mentioned that the State would be vindicated if the court decides in its favour.

Subsequently, SG Mehta asked whether a question on commensurate force would be asked even when spears and tanks are used. Responding, the court remarked that the former judge will only monitor and infuse confidence. The court further asked if the State is experiencing difficulty in complying with the committee.

SG Tushar Mehta persisted and submitted that ADGP Haryana Amitabh Singh Dhillon can head the probe panel instead. The Court replied that it could not be a solution for all conflicts.

The top court added that even in the Lakhimpur Kheri case, a former judge was heading the probe. Consecutively, SG Mehta urged the Court to not compare the two cases and contended that it would be demoralising for the police force.

Meanwhile, the Court suggested waiting for the report and stated that the judiciary would take care of the morale of the force and people as well. The matter will be next heard on April 19.

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