The Supreme Court Friday moved Manipur’s violence-related cases being probed by the CBI to neighbouring Assam and asked the Chief Justice of Gauhati High Court to nominate one or more judicial officers in Guwahati to deal with the production and remand of the accused in these cases.
Directions to this effect were given by the bench of Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud and Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra following a request from Solicitor General Tushar Mehta who appeared for the Centre and State of Manipur.
Mehta told the bench that 27 cases have been transferred to the CBI. He said some of these cases may be triable by a magistrate and some by a sessions judge.
“Instead of troubling the judges in Manipur, where there might be some issue of the judge belonging to a tribe etc., the suggestion is that one sessions judge may be designated by the Chief Justice of Gauhati as Assam is a border state and there is connectivity facility,” he said.
“If this request is accepted, the issues of production, custody of accused etc. would arise. The concern of CBI is that in most parts of Manipur, the situation now is normal, but there may be security issues if we have to transfer (the accused) physically for the purpose of production etc. So that may be permitted through virtual mode. And if an accused is to be kept in judicial custody, that can be in Manipur even though the judge is in Assam,” Mehta said.
He said these were the “broad requests that will ensure that justice is not only done, but also seen to be done”.
Allowing the request, the bench issued directions, saying it is doing so “at the present stage, bearing in mind the overall environment and the need for ensuring a fair process of criminal justice administration”.
It allowed the designated courts to take up via online mode all applications for the production of the accused, remand, judicial custody, extension of custody and other proceedings in connection with the investigation, bearing in mind both distance and security issues.
The bench said that judicial custody of the accused, if and when granted, shall be permitted in Manipur to obviate transit. It said that statements of witnesses under CrPC Section 164 be recorded in presence of a local magistrate in Manipur or, as the case may be, where witnesses reside outside Manipur. It asked the Manipur High Court Acting Chief Justice to designate one or more magistrates for this purpose.
“Applications seeking arrest warrants etc. are permitted to be made by the investigating officers through the online mode,” the bench said and asked the Chief Justice of Gauhati High Court to “preferably select judges who are conversant in one or more languages of Manipur”.
Test Identification Parades (TIP) are permitted to take place in the presence of a local magistrate nominated by the Acting Chief Justice of Manipur High Court, the bench said, adding that investigating officers can send via online mode the applications seeking arrest.
On concerns that Internet services have not been fully restored in the state, the bench noted that the “SG has assured the court that the Government of Manipur shall take all necessary steps to ensure that proper Internet connectivity is made available… to facilitate compliance of the direction”.
Senior Advocate Indira Jaising, appearing for a petitioner, urged the bench to allow those who wanted to physically approach the court to do so.
Mehta said the concern is that the CBI may get hundreds of applications from people saying they want to go and will ask the agency to provide security.
The CJI said the court cannot compel anyone to appear via online mode, noting in the order that “the above directions shall not preclude any witness or person who desires to appear in person to do so before the judge in Gauhati”.
Mehta also suggested that after 4-5 months, if the Supreme Court feels that the situation in Manipur is completely normal, then the designated court can hold sittings in the state itself.
Calling it a fair suggestion, the CJI said, “Today we are not in the stage of trial, but pre-trial directions – judicial custody, summoning etc. At a certain later stage, if we come to a conclusion that the trial can take place in Manipur, we can ask the judge nominated by the Gauhati HC to come to Manipur and conduct the trial there.”
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Jaising said she had earlier too expressed concern about the trial being shifted to Assam. She said if the court is inclined to transfer cases, then it should be to Mizoram or Meghalaya.
But the CJI said, “If we send it to Meghalaya, it goes to Shillong. All these people who have to go to Shillong have to go via Gauhati. I have travelled in that terrain extensively. So it’s much better that we place it in Gauhati than… Shillong… Look at the practicalities.”
“We are today at an anterior stage… covering tops like custody, remand… these are issues which we have to deal with immediately. When the trial starts, we will review it. If at that stage we feel no, the situation is such that the trial should take place in Manipur… These are not orders cast in stone. We can always change these orders and say now the situation has come back to normal, trials can take place in Manipur, we will send everything back to Manipur. There is no restraint on our court’s power under Article 142 to pass appropriate orders at that time,” it said.
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