Do the frequent clashes between the police and prosecutors reflect the growing decay from within?
Clashes between the police and lawyers have not been unknown in India. Delhi has particularly been identified with such ungentlemanly behaviour by lawyers and the police since 1988, when the Delhi Police arrested an advocate after he was caught by the students of St Stephen’s College for allegedly stealing from a ladies common room. It resulted in lathi charge and an all-out conflict between the police and the lawyers. The latest of such incidents in the national capital was the violence witnessed in the Tis Hazari Court complex on 2 November 2019. It began with a parking issue and quickly transformed into an occasion for full-scale violence.
However, the incident that is the subject of discussion in this article takes this a step further. Bihar recently witnessed a clash between a judge, cops, and lawyers. Shocking charges were levelled by an additional district judge (ADJ) in Jhanjharpur subdivisional civil court of Madhubani district against the local police. He complained that he was first abused and then manhandled by two sub-inspector rank policemen from the Ghogardiha police station. This happened in his chamber in the afternoon of 18 November 2021, and, thereafter, a pistol was pointed at him.
Shocking charges were levelled by an additional district judge (ADJ) in Jhanjharpur subdivisional civil court of Madhubani district against the local police.
Lawyers and judicial staff who were around, on hearing the scuffle, rushed into the judge’s chamber, rescued him, thrashed the policemen and took them hostage. As this gruesome news spread, senior state and district officers rushed to the spot in an attempt to diffuse the situation. At about 9PM that night, the officers were able to rescue the policemen from the spot where they were held hostage. An FIR was later lodged against the policemen and further action was being contemplated by senior police officers. According to latest reports, they have been taken into custody.
Expectedly, the Jhanjharpur Bar Association and the Bihar Police Association (BPA) also jumped in. The local Bar Association passed a resolution condemning the incident and termed it as an attack on the judiciary by the administration. The Association also wrote to the District and Sessions Judge about the incident. On the other hand, the BPA president stated that only a thorough probe could reveal the truth. No one saw what happened to the judge, but the blood stains on the uniforms of policemen were clearly visible and those who beat up the police in court premises must be punished.
The ADJ himself has earlier been in the eye of several storms on account of his unfamiliar orders. In one such matter, while granting bail to a person accused of molestation, he ordered the accused to wash clothes of the entire village pro bono. In another judgment earlier this year, while denying bail to the accused in a case where the police had not filed a chargesheet invoking the POCSO Act, he ordered special training for Madhubani Superintendent of Police (SP) and the Sub divisional Police Officer (SDPO) since they had displayed poor knowledge of law on minor girls. Lawyers reportedly alleged that the attack on the ADJ by policemen definitely had something to do with the ADJ’s training order during the above cited case of molestation. During his earlier posting in Patna, the ADJ had served show cause notices to the Chief Secretary and Director General of Police, Bihar, for non-compliance of directions in a lynching case and had ordered that INR 2,500 be deducted from the salaries of the district magistrate and the Superintendent of Police of the district and deposit the money in the CM’s Relief Fund. Later, the High Court found his conduct amiss and stripped the ADJ’s entire judicial powers.
During his earlier posting in Patna, the ADJ had served show cause notices to the Chief Secretary and Director General of Police, Bihar, for non-compliance of directions in a lynching case and had ordered that INR 2,500 be deducted from the salaries of the district magistrate and the Superintendent of Police of the district and deposit the money in the CM’s Relief Fund.
In the meanwhile, the Chief Justice of the Bihar High Court stepped into the matter and took suo motu cognisance of the incident and formed a special division bench to hear the matter. A special hearing was scheduled for 29 November 2021 and the DGP, Bihar has been asked to be present and also submit a status report in a sealed cover. This has since been complied with. It appears that the matter has been treated by the High Court as an attack on the independence of the judiciary and further proceedings that take place before the High Court would have to be watched.
We may recall that just a few months ago, in Jharkhand’s Dhanbad town, Judge Uttam Anand was felled by a vehicle on a lonely stretch of a city road while he was out on a morning jog. Initially registered as a hit and run case, an FIR was ultimately filed that alleged murder. In this matter, just as in Bihar, the Jharkhand High Court took cognizance and issued directions to the police for investigation. The “independence of the judiciary is the independence of each and every judge”, the Supreme Court had observed post the incident. “Judicial independence of the district judiciary is cardinal to the integrity of the entire system. The courts comprised in the district judiciary are the first point of interface with citizens. If the faith of the citizen in the administration of justice has to be preserved, it is to the district judiciary that attention must be focused as well as the ‘higher’ judiciary,” Justice Chandrachud had observed.
The outcomes of such incidents have wide ramifications in society. Firstly, they bring a bad name to the institutions of law and justice. They also reveal the tense relationship that exists between institutions of democracy and raises serious questions with regard to their capability to act fairly and in public interest. It is expected that those occupying positions of power and responsibility in government would maintain professional decorum and exhibit restraint in their public behaviour at all times. This applies to judges, lawyers as well as the police. The public servants have to continuously bear in mind that their conduct and actual performance must instill confidence in the citizenry and build public faith in the judicial system rather than be seen as settling personal scores. In this case, none of the parties seem to have kept within the boundaries of established protocol.
It is expected that those occupying positions of power and responsibility in government would maintain professional decorum and exhibit restraint in their public behaviour at all times.
This incident clearly raises questions in the minds of the citizenry about the ability of the judicial institutions to deliver quality justice. On the other hand, it sends a message to anti-social and anti-national elements about the collapse of governance and emboldens them to proceed on their devious paths with greater abandon and fearlessness. As is true in all that happens in this country, political parties exploit each such incident to score points over their rivals. In the ultimate analysis, the biggest casualty is good governance and the citizenry. The alleged murder of Justice Anand ought to be an eye-opener and reveals how far criminal elements can go to destroy good governance.
The involvement of apex institutions in local affairs is another worrying phenomenon. This has already happened in the executive wing where ministers and state level officers rush to supervise a job that ought to have been locally handled by district authorities. Now this is happening in the judiciary. This cuts the authority of the local officers whose efforts get diverted towards protocol rather than the problem at hand. It also sends the signal that each arm of governance is out to protect its own turf rather than the citizens. It would be much wiser to issue clear guidelines on how and with what alacrity such matters ought to be tackled rather than delve separately into each incident.
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Dr. Ramanath Jha is Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Mumbai. He works on urbanisation — urban sustainability, urban governance and urban planning. Dr. Jha belongs ...Read More +