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Manipur killings: Centre seeks recusal of Supreme Court bench

The Centre on Friday sought recusal of the two-judge Supreme Court bench monitoring the CBI probe into the alleged extra-judicial killings of 1,528 people in Manipur by security forces between 1985 and 2001.

india Updated: Sep 28, 2018 22:45 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
New Delhi
Manipur,Centre,Supreme Court
The Supreme Court reserved its order on the plea.(Sonu Mehta/HT Photo)

The Centre on Friday sought recusal of the two-judge Supreme Court bench monitoring the CBI probe into the alleged extra-judicial killings of 1,528 people in Manipur by security forces between 1985 and 2001. But the top court reserved its order on the plea.

Attorney General KK Venugopal backed the plea made by Manipur commandos that some of the court’s observations (oral remarks) had created an apprehension of bias from the bench by those facing the probe. Strong objection was raised against the judges terming some officers, named in the CBI charge sheet, as “murderers”.

The top law officer made his submissions before a bench of justices Madan B Lokur and U U Lalit and referred to the July 30 proceedings to make his point. While pulling up the CBI for not arresting those named in the charge sheet filed in connection, the judges had remarked that the agency was letting “murderers” roam free. The CBI director was present on the day of hearing to explain the slow pace of investigation.

Venugopal said: “Armed forces in Manipur are fighting insurgency and secession. Large number of soldiers are killed by insurgents...this direction from court... It has completely shaken the morale of the forces. Their families live in grave risk... Then there are these statements from the court...every newspaper reported this... Before even cognisance is taken, if highest court of the country declares there are murderers roaming in the streets of Imphal, all 41 of them stand branded.”

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Manipur commandos, said the comments made by the judges foreclose his client’s case before the trial court. “There is apprehension that we are not likely to get justice and the future course of proceedings may be tilted against us,” he submitted, adding “it is our case that this court should not hear this matter.”

Venugopal showed similar concern. “Will the trial judge have the courage to go against this observation? The personnel feel ‘we are finished’,” he said.

Justice Lalit intervened to give the context in which the statement was made. He said the CBI counsel who had appeared before it that day had explained how the charge sheet is vetted multiple times before filing. The murderer remark was only in the context of a charge under section 302 (murder) being added to the chargesheet, he said.

“What is published in newspapers is not what fell from this court. I don’t think there is any room for apprehension of this sort. If required we will pass an order that these (comments) were not intended for anything else,” the judge told Rohatgi. But this failed to satisfy the counsel. “It will not wash it off. Such an order will not meet the ends of justice,” Rohatgi said.

When Venugopal repeated the apprehension that the personnel were not confident of a fair trial, justice Lokur said: “Which means CBI will not investigate fairly?” He did not reply to the question, but said that to allay the fears of these people, justified or not, it was better the bench did not monitor the case.

The bench then reserved its order on the plea.

First Published: Sep 28, 2018 22:45 IST