NEW DELHI, Aug 25: In a significant development, the Supreme Court on Friday transferred to neighbouring Assam 17 Manipur violence cases being probed by the CBI, including the sexual assault case of two women seen in a viral video being paraded naked, and asked the Chief Justice of the Gauhati High Court to nominate one or more judicial officers to deal with them.
The top court passed a slew of directions on judicial procedures, including the virtual examination of victims and witnesses by courts, saying they have been issued “at the present stage, bearing in mind the overall environment in Manipur and the need for ensuring a fair process of criminal justice administration”.
A bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra rejected the submissions of many lawyers, who were opposed to transfer of CBI cases to Assam, and accepted the submissions of Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre and the Manipur government, that the suggestion has been made keeping in mind the better internet connectivity there.
“We chose it for the connectivity and the maximum (internet) connectivity is in Assam,” the law officer said.
“Both sides (Kuki and Meiteis) have been hurt …There have been victims in valleys, and in hills. It would be difficult for people who suffered in valleys to travel to hills, and the other way round. We are not on who suffered more, just the practical difficulty,” the CJI said, adding the top court will pass orders which will be fair to both sides.
Issuing directions, the bench said, “We request the Chief Justice of the Gauhati High Court to nominate one or more officers above the rank of Judicial Magistrate First Class/sessions judge In Guwahati in Assam to deal with such trial cases. The Chief Justice to preferably select judges who are conversant in one or more languages of Manipur.”
All applications for the production of the accused, remand, judicial custody, extension of custody, and other proceedings in connection with the investigations are allowed to be conducted on the online mode, bearing in mind both distance and security issues at the designated courts, it directed.
“The Judicial custody of the accused if and when granted shall be permitted in Manipur in order to obviate transit,” the apex court said.
The statement of witnesses under Section 164 (testimonies under the provision are admissible as evidence during trials) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) are permitted to be recorded in the presence of a local magistrate in Manipur, it said.
The Supreme Court said the Acting Chief Justice of the Manipur High Court shall designate one or more magistrates as the need may arise for the purpose of recording the statements under section 164 of the CrPC.
The Test Identification parades, conducted to identify the accused, are permitted to take place through video conferencing in the presence of a Manipur-based magistrate among the magistrates who are designated by the acting chief justice of the Manipur High Court, it said.
“Applications such as seeking search and arrest warrants will be issued by the investigating officer through the online mode,” it said.
Taking note of the submissions of senior advocate Indira Jaising, appearing for one the parties, the bench permitted people, including victims, witnesses and others related to CBI cases, to appear physically before the designated Gauhati courts if they don’t want to appear online and said its “order shall not preclude those who wish to appear physically in Guwahati.”
It directed the Manipur government to provide proper internet services to facilitate hearing of CBI cases online at the Gauhati court.
The bench said it will pass “certain procedural directions” on September 1 to facilitate smooth functioning of the three member-panel of women judges headed by Justice Gita Mittal, a former Chief Justice of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court.
The committee, constituted by the apex court on August 21 to oversee relief and rehabilitation of those hit by ethnic violence in the border state, Monday submitted three reports highlighting the need for reconstruction of identity documents, upgradation of compensation and appointment of domain experts to facilitate its functioning.
The top court will pass orders to deal with issues pertaining to administrative requisitions, funding to meet administrative and other expenses, and setting up a web portal to provide necessary publicity to the work being done by the Justice Mittal panel.
The committee also comprises Justices (retd) Shalini P Joshi and Asha Menon.
Earlier, the central government had ordered a CBI probe into several cases of ethnic violence in Manipur. The central agency has already taken up investigation in as many as 17 cases.
Manipur plunged into a frenzy of violence in May over a high court order directing the state government to consider including the non-tribal Meitei community in the list of Scheduled Tribes.
This order led to rampant ethnic clashes. More than 160 people have been killed and several hundred injured since ethnic violence first broke out in the state on May 3 when a ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ was organised in the hill districts to protest against the majority Meitei community’s demand for Scheduled Tribe status. (PTI)