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Punishing guilty police officers in Mumbai riots
By Asghar Ali Engineer

The Government of Maharashtra after a great deal of hesitation has, albeit slowly, and hesitatingly, started implementing Srikrishna Report. Though the Nationalist Congress of Pawar had promised, in its manifesto, to implement the Report within few months of its coming to power, it dragged its feet for long and began to implement it only under tremendous pressure from the NGOs and human rights activists, apart from some minority organizations. Also, there was the Supreme Court case and the Government of Maharashtra had filed an affidavit for implementation of the Report.

Even though the Government of Maharashtra is so tardy in implementing the Report, the Shiv Sena has decided to challenge its implementation in the Bombay High Court. Its argument is that once the Shiv Sena-BJP government rejected it, how can it be implemented by the subsequent government. The Shiv Sena has also decided to mobilize public opinion against its implementation dubbing it as ‘appeasement’ of Muslims with an eye on their votes. It is also going to publish thousands of booklets in Hindi, Marathi and English. Thus it can be seen how complex is the matter. It is deeply political in nature. Its implementation will face great deal of challenges from the opposition which is by and large responsible for the Bombay riots of 1992-93.

The Government of Maharashtra set up a task force to examine the charges against the police officers mentioned in the Srikrishna Commission Report.. The Commission had named about 32 senior and junior police officials who were guilty of showing raw prejudices against minority and even killing them. In fact the Bombay police could have filed charge sheets right away as the inquiry was conducted by a sitting judge of Bombay High Court and his findings could not be taken lightly anyway. However, to further delay the process, a task force was set up to examine the charges. The task force took quite some time and when the NGOs demanded early action it was said that the task force was examining the charges.

However, initially some constables were suspended but no action was forthcoming as far as senior police officers like R.D.Tyagi were concerned who retired as Director General of Police. It was only recently that the Bombay police filed a FIR against him for ordering killing of 9 bakery workers on Mohammad Ali Road during the Bombay riots. However, he has not been arrested.

The concluding para of the FIR filed against Tyagi says: “The accused took undue advantage of the authority given to them and abused the power to cause the death of nine innocent persons with nothing to create even a suspicion that any of them was in bakery for the purpose of committing any violent act.” The FIR also noted that it was obvious that “in the name of discharging their duties the accused committed acts which were no part of their duties to perform and there was no authority given to them to exercise.” The FIR also adds that the acts committed by Tyagi and others “do not have any reasonable appearance to suggest that they were acting under the colour of authority or duty.”

The FIR runs into 15 pages and concludes by noting that the FIR was lodged against Tyagi and others on behalf of the Maharashtra government for committing the murder of nine persons with common intention and attempting to cause the death of the tenth.” The incident referred to took place at about 9-30 a.m. on 9th January 1993. The FIR noted that about 10-30 a.m. Mr. Tyagi ordered his men to go inside (the Suleiman Bakery) and the doors were broken open and “all accused” (i.e. police officers) went inside. They were heavily armed with sten guns, A.K.47 and carbines etc. and Mr.Tyagi said he had taken full control of the bakery.R.D.Tyagi, who, according to Srikrishna Commission, was not at all justified in killing unarmed innocent nine bakery workers on 9th January 1993 became police commissioner of Bombay in October 1995. He was appointed to this high post by Shiv Sena-BJP Government at the instance of Bal Thackaray. There was obviously heavy communal bias in his appointment. In fact the hidden message was that one who kills innocent members of a minority community could be rewarded by a communal outfit. Not surprisingly Mr.Tyagi even joined Shiv Sena after his retirement and contested the Rajya Sabha election unsuccessfully with the support of Shiv Sena.

It is highly regrettable that such officers with raw prejudices against minorities are rewarded in this way. And it has not happened for the first time not only under the Shiv Sena government alone. Under the Congress government too police officers reprimanded by inquiry commissions were promoted to the high posts. Take for example the Madon Commission of inquiry appointed by the Congress Government in Maharshtra to inquire into Bhiwandi-Jalgaon riots of 1970. Madon Commission too, like the Srikrishna Commission, had strongly criticized the role of the police and had named certain police officers for their communal bias.

Thus in volume I of his report, Justice Madon observes, ‘We have seen in the course of this inquiry that some members of the Police Force, including some senior officers, have made reports to their superiors which were false and have thereby misled their superiors and through them the government. ….In one case the officer concerned was given a warning. A warning, however, is not enough…..Any officer found to have made a false or incorrect report…should be severely dealt with.” The Madon Commission Report also deals with the case of Inspector Sawant of Jalgaon who, like R.D.Tiwari, led a mob in Jalgaon to Hajra Begum’s house and set it afire resulting in death of her three children. No action was taken against Mr.Sawant until Hajra Begum was taken to meet Mrs. Indira Gandhi. It was on her intervention that Sawant was suspended. But as far as my knowledge goes no subsequent action was taken and he was restored.

Again the case of Maliana and Hashimpura shootings are too well known to repeat here. Twenty-three young boys from Hashimpura were pulled out, loaded on truck and shot dead near the canal outside Meerut town. Only one boy survived to tell the tale. The shootings were carried out by PAC jawans under the orders of PAC commandant Tripathi. But for years no action was taken against him and PAC jawans. R.D.Tyagi and others, who shot down nine innocent boys in Usman Bakery in Bombay riots also remained untouched for several years. In case of PAC commandant even to file FIR it was not easy.

The FIR was filed after a great deal of persuasion by human rights activists when Mulayam Singh Yadav was Chief Minister. But in case of Meerut riots filing FIR was end of it. Nothing further happened. The culprits were not even suspended.

Thus many more instances can be given from different riots and inquiry commission reports. In fact one can say that inquiry commissions are routines announced after every major riot and report when submitted, is ritually adopted and filed. It is in case of Srikrishna Commission Report of 1992-93 Bombay riots that many NGOs and human rights activists have shown keen interest in its implementation. And it is under pressure from these human rights activists and PIL filed in the Supreme Court that the Government of Maharashtra has taken steps to implement Srikrishna Commission report. But still so much remains to be done.

Now the most important question is whether Mr. Tyagi and others against whom FIR has been filed are arrested or not. The Commissioner of Police right now sees no need to arrest him. The lawyers also differ in their opinion on this matter. Some lawyers maintain that persons against whom FIR has been filed should be arrested. Mr. Colin Gonsalves, a lawyer and human rights activist maintained that “In view of heinousness of the crime, an arrest is only natural, now that the FIR has been filed. There is no reason why the state government should show any preferential treatment in this case, people will loose faith in law and the judiciary.”

Some other lawyers, on the other hand, said that it is not necessary to arrest him unless there is some direct evidence (Srikrishna Commission Report is more than direct evidence in this case). These advocates maintained that “The police can arrest Mr. Tyagi and others but they are not duty bound to do so because of certain observations made by the Supreme Court.” There is also a court case pending in Bombay and it is said that he can be arrested after June 15, the date of hearing of the case.

Some police officers are also saying that arresting Tyagi will demoralize the police force and it will send wrong signals. The former Shiv Sena Chief Minister Shri Rane maintained that “Henceforth policemen would prefer not to act against criminals.” In keeping with his party policy he went to the extent of saying that, “The move against Tyagi and others in the 1992-93 Mumbai riots case was nothing but appeasement of minorities.”

The argument that arresting Mr. Tyagi and others would send a wrong signal and that the policemen would not act against criminals in future is a very flawed logic. Does it mean that the biased police officers should be given license to kill innocent persons. As pointed out above there is ample evidence that many police officers, though certainly not all, are communally biased and such officers can kill innocent people of certain communities under the pretext of maintaining law and order and restoring peace. This is what happened in the case of Suleiman bakery in Bombay riots. If there is reasonable ground to believe that some officer has caused the death of certain persons without justification action as laid down by the law must be taken against such officers. There is ample justification, as per Justice Srikrishna Commission Report to take legal action against Tyagi and others.

Also, many Shiv Sena leaders who provoked riots have been named by the Srikrishna Report. Such leaders also should be arrested and action taken against them. It appears the Task Force set up by the government of Maharashtra is going rather slowly in the matter and there is need for expeditious action. Implementation of the report has already been delayed by several years. It should have been implemented as soon as it was submitted. Amnesty International had even suggested, when the inquiry was going on, that a provisional report should be prepared and government of Maharshtra should implement it.

There are differing opinions among leading advocates and activists about arresting Shri R.D.Tyagi.

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