What happened at Tis Hazari CourtUpdated: Nov 02, 2019 23:16 IST
Packed into navy blue-coloured prison vans marked with smashed windows, most undertrial prisoners left the Tis Hazari Court after 6 pm on Saturday.
As the prison vans were stuck in traffic jams, relatives and friends of the prisoners chased the vehicles to exchange a few words with the inmates.
This was an unusual schedule for Delhi’s prison vans. As per norms, undertrial prisoners are supposed to be inside jail before sunset.
Less than three hours earlier in the day, the prisoners were caught in a violent clash between policemen and lawyers that left over 50 injured and nearly 30 vehicles burnt or smashed. Police and lawyers claimed they rescued the prisoners in the court lock-up and jail van.
It all began at 2 pm when a policeman stopped an advocate from parking his car outside the court lock-up, a space reserved for about a dozen jail vans. It led to an argument, resulting in a scuffle.
A lawyer, Varun Jain, said the scuffle resulted in the advocate being forcibly confined in the lock-up with other prisoners. “Word spread and we landed outside the lock-up to get our colleague released. We had a heated exchange and the police beat us up. One of them fired multiple rounds, hitting two of our colleagues,” Jain said.
But police said the advocate was not locked up. “They manhandled the policemen before setting fire to a police jeep and a dozen motorcycles. We called in reinforcements and senior officers arrived at the scene to control the situation,” said Alok Kumar, a joint commissioner of police.
The officer said it was amid all this vandalism that a group of more than 100 lawyers forcibly entered the lock-up and attacked the policemen. “In self-defence, and to save the prisoners, assistant sub-inspector Pawan fired in the air. That hit two advocates,” JCP Kumar said.
One advocate, 40-year-old Vijay Verma, was shot in his right shoulder. A criminal lawyer, Verma has been practising at the court for two decades, his colleagues said. His bullet has been removed and he is admitted in St Stephen’s Hospital’s ICU. The other lawyer hit by a bullet is 32-year-old Ravi Yadav, who has been practising at the court since 2014. He was hit in his hand, but is out of danger.
Harendra Singh, additional deputy commissioner of police (north), said the prisoners were under such a threat from the lawyers that he and his men had to form a human chain to move them from one lock-up to another. “We were getting suffocated by the smoke and had to use drinking water to douse flames of motorcycles set on fire in a bid to cause a blast and break open the lock-up,” Singh said.
Outside, the lawyers allegedly went on the rampage. A video shot on mobile phones showed large groups of lawyers smashing the windows of jail vans and a police jeep. Another video showed them being chased by cops.
“I was working on a case in my chamber when policemen smashed the glass panes in the door using batons. They abused me, locked the chamber from outside and left,” alleged Reena Singh, a lawyer. Other lawyers accused the police of vandalising parked cars of advocates.
Some judges tried to intervene but to no effect. “When some people were vandalising the prison vans, I saw four prisoners trapped inside one van. They were begging to be rescued,” said Vaibhav Arora, an advocate. His colleague, Jai Vats, said it was at that time that a judge signalled the lawyers to rescue them. “We brought the four prisoners to safely and moved them to the lock-up,” said Vats.
JCP Kumar said the police had no knowledge of this particular rescue.
The issue assumed political colours with the Congress and AAP criticising the BJP-led central government, which controlls Delhi Police, for the incident. The BJP condemned the incident and asked for a fair probe.
“It was a cowardly attitude on part of police. The way the lawyers were assaulted, it’s barbaric,” said AAP’s Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Singh.
Delhi’s social welfare minister Rajendra Pal Gautam, also a lawyer, said “It is the duty of the police to maintain law and order. The force the police used on lawyers rather reflects a collapsed law and order situation.”
Congress’ Delhi unit chief Subhash Chopra said, “If lawyers are not safe under the BJP government, which has Delhi Police under its jurisdiction, how can commoners feel safe? If action is not taken, Delhi Congress will protest in connection with the incident.”
Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari said, “We condemn the incident. It should be thoroughly probed and those found guilty should be punished.”