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Ex-SC judge Indu Malhotra to head panel to probe PM’s security breach in Punjab

The apex court said any lapse regarding the breach in security of Prime Minister Narendra Modi could have led to “devastating and serious consequences”, and made it crystal clear that one-sided enquiries, either by state government or Centre, will not be sufficient to resolve questions associated with security considerations.

Statesman News Service | New Delhi |

The Supreme Court on Wednesday said retired top court judge Justice Indu Malhotra will head the committee to investigate Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s security breach in Punjab last week.

The apex court said any lapse regarding the breach in security of Prime Minister Narendra Modi could have led to “devastating and serious consequences”, and made it crystal clear that one-sided enquiries, either by state government or Centre, will not be sufficient to resolve questions associated with security considerations.

The additional object is to avoid any human error, negligence or any wilful omission or commission which may hamper and/or expose the safety and security of the executive head of the nation while he is travelling in a particular state. Any lapse in this regard can lead to devastating and serious consequences,” the court added.

A bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana and comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli said a panel headed by former top court judge will inquire into causes of the security breach, persons responsible for the breach, and also measures to be taken in future to prevent security breach of the Prime Minister and other constitutional functionaries.

The other members on the court-appointed committee are Director General, or his nominee not below the rank of Inspector General of Police, of the National Investigation Agency, Director General of Police, Union Territory of Chandigarh, Additional Director General of Police, Security, Punjab, and the Registrar General, Punjab and Haryana High Court as member-cum-coordinator.

“A judicially trained independent mind, duly assisted by officers who are well acquainted with the security considerations and the Registrar General of the High Court who has seized the record pursuant to our earlier order, would be best placed to effectively visit all issues and submit a comprehensive report for the consideration of this Court,” it said.

The bench emphasised that such questions cannot be left open for one-sided inquiries. Both the state government and the Central government had formed their committees to inquire into the matter. The top court had asked both the Centre and Punjab government to not move ahead with their respective inquiries into the matter.

Deprecating the blame game between the state government and the Centre, for pinning the responsibility of the lapse in PM’s security, the court said: “War of words between them is no solution. It may rather impair the need of a robust mechanism to respond at such a critical juncture.”

Advocate General D.S. Patwalia, representing the Punjab government, had submitted that the Ministry of Home Affairs, in a way, already held the officers of Punjab government ‘guilty’ of the alleged negligence and/or breach of security of the PM. He maintained that none of the agencies of the state government had committed a dereliction of their responsibility for the security and safety of the PM, yet there is a smear campaign to discredit the government.

The Punjab government had constituted a committee – comprising a former judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court and Principal Secretary, Home Affairs and Justice — to carry out a thorough probe into the lapses that occurred during the Firozpur visit of the PM.

Senior advocate Maninder Singh, representing the petitioner Lawyers Voice NGO, however, said the constitution of an enquiry committee by the state government was nothing but an abortive attempt to become a judge in its own cause.

The top court studied the provisions of the Special Protection Group Act, 1988, along with the relevant contents of the ‘Blue Book’. It said: “The Blue Book contains an unambiguous and detailed procedure to be observed by the State Authorities and the Special Protection Group to ensure full safety and security of the Prime Minister while he is touring a state.”

The bench said it finds merit in Singh’s that not only are the officer(s)/authority responsible for the above stated lapse liable to be identified, but there is also a greater urgency to evolve new measures that may ensure there is no recurrence of such lapses in the future.

Earlier during the hearing, the bench had said: “We are taking the PM’s security breach very seriously.” It added that it will ask the committee to submit its report to it within a short span.

The top court order came on a petition by NGO Lawyer’s Voice, which was represented by senior advocate Maninder Singh.

The petitioner had emphasised on the importance of protection to the PM of the country and cited previous top court ruling that looked at the SPG Act.