Delhi riots: Two get bail in constable Ratan Lal murder case, two others denied
The Delhi high court on Tuesday granted bail to two persons accused of allegedly murdering head constable Ratan Lal during the north-east Delhi riots in 2020, and said they cannot be made to languish behind bars for a longer period of time and the veracity of the allegations against them can be tested during the trial.
Justice Subramonium Prasad granted relief to Shahnawaz and Mohammad Ayyub, who are in jail for the past 17 months and said the evidence does not indicate clearly whether they were present at the scene of the crime.
Prasad said the call detail records (CDRs) of the accused were “inconclusive” and does not definitively establish whether they were a part of the unlawful assembly that day. He also said there is no electronic evidence available with the investigating agency to prove the allegations.
“In view of the facts and circumstances of the cases, without commenting on the merits of the matter, this court is of the opinion that the petitioners cannot be made to languish behind bars for a longer period of time, and that the veracity of the allegations against him can be tested during trial,” justice Prasad said in two separate orders.
In the judgment granting bail to Ayyub, the judge reiterated that “right to protest and express dissent is a right which occupies a fundamental stature in a democratic polity, and therefore, the fact that the accused was part of the protest is not sufficient ground to refuse him bail”.
“Additionally, merely being one of the organisers of the protest as well as being in touch with others who participated in the protest is also not sufficient enough to justify the contention that the petitioner was involved in the pre-planning of the alleged incident,” Prasad said while granting relief to Ayyub.
With respect to Shahnawaz, the court said the audio clip recovered from his mobile phone is “inconclusive” at this juncture as it fails to reveal whether Shahnawaz was involved in the acts committed. It said the audio clips also do not indicate whether Shahnawaz was at the scene of the crime, and therefore, they cannot form any basis for keeping the accused in “prolonged incarceration”.
The single bench said it is the constitutional duty of the court to ensure that there is no arbitrary deprivation of personal liberty in the face of excess state power.
“Bail is the rule and jail is the exception, and courts must exercise their jurisdiction to uphold the tenets of personal liberty, subject to rightful regulation of the same by validly enacted legislation. The Supreme Court has time and again held that Courts need to be alive to both ends of the spectrum, i.e. the duty of the Courts to ensure proper enforcement of criminal law, and the duty of the Courts to ensure that the law does not become a tool for targeted harassment,” the judge said in the two orders.
According to the police, on February 24, 2020, a crowd carrying various weapons and stones convened on the main Wazirabad Road and started pelting stones at police and more than 50 personnel suffered injuries. Constable Ratan Lal was shot dead. He added that the protesters burnt private and public vehicles, as well as other properties in the vicinity, including a petrol pump and a car showroom.
Meanwhile, justice Prasad dismissed the bail applications of Sadiq alias Sahil and Irshad Ali, accused in the same case, saying their footage at the scene of crime is “quite egregious”, and is therefore sufficient to keep them in custody.
Special public prosecutor (SPP) Amit Prasad had produced three videos shot by one Vishal Chaudhary during the incident, indicating the presence of the accused and their involvement in it.
“The clinching evidence that tilts this court to prolong the incarceration of the petitioner is his presence in the Vishal Chaudhary video wherein he is clearly identified at the scene of crime, holding a danda in one hand and pelting stones with his other hand at uniformed officials. The fact that he actively participated and pelted stones at the police officials at the scene of crime justify the invocation of Section 149 IPC read with Section 302 IPC in the instant case,” the judge said in two separate orders.
Communal riots broke out in north-east Delhi in February 2020, claiming 53 lives and leaving more than 400 injured.