The Haryana government on Monday told the Punjab and Haryana high court that it has uncovered fresh leads into the alleged gang rapes at Murthal during the Jat quota stir on February 22, and sought additional time to dig out “something concrete”.
Additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta and additional advocate general Lokesh Sinhal told the high court bench of justices SS Saron and Lisa Gill that it would be impossible to predict the direction of the probe at this stage. Following this, the court granted the state government’s request for more time.
Earlier, the government submitted its report on the investigations conducted so far to the court in a sealed cover. Among other things, it reportedly contained a reference to the denial and subsequent apology on the part of a Delhi-based web portal over interviewing victims of the alleged gang rapes.
Though the exact details were not shared in court, the report’s reference to the article on the website drew sharp criticism from amicus curiae Anupam Gupta. He not only targeted the special investigation team (SIT) and the government, for carrying a report based on the SIT report – submitted in a sealed cover to the high court on June 1. The portal had removed the story and putting out an apology and carried a report based on findings of SIT in June.
Gupta submitted that the audio clips procured by the journalist was heard by the court as well, and could not be false. “The high court has heard the audio. Whether the reporter went to Ghaziabad or Gurgaon is immaterial. The content of audio can shake anybody’s conscience,” he said, adding that the reporter could be prosecuted if the audio was found to be false. Gupta also wondered why people preferred speaking to the media and others, instead of the police.
The amicus curiae further questioned how the SIT report, submitted to the bench in a sealed cover, was accessed by the web portal. “Someone in the government or SIT shared it with the portal. The action could very well be placed in the category of contempt, but I am not pressing for the same,” Gupta said, even as government promised to ensure that such a thing does not happen again.
“Let us not deviate from the main path. Let us not only identify the victims but also the accused,” the high court bench said. It observed that while the government was initially reluctant to even register FIRs, it was now accepting that the incident had taken place. “There is no doubt about it (rapes),” the high court bench said, asking the government to expedite the probe.
Meanwhile, the government failed to table a second volume of reports submitted by the Prakash Singh committee on instances of commission and omission by state officials during the Jat protests. The high court has sought the report by the next date of hearing.
The court also wanted to know whether the government planned to bring in any legislation to deal with such violent protests, and recover damages from protesters. “When it has shaken the consciousness of an entire region, why are you treating it as a law-and-order issue?” it asked, seeking “drastic steps” and not mere “lip service”.
The matter will now come up for hearing on July 23, when the state intends to file a response to reports from state judicial officers that there was a “complete breakdown of state machinery” during the violent protests in February.