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Khaki versus black coats

A simple tiff over parking escalated to a major confrontation between Delhi Police and lawyers, leading to an unprecedented dharna by cops at their Headquarters

In an unprecedented act by Delhi Police personnel, a protest played out in front of police headquarters opposite the Income Tax Office (ITO), Delhi on November 5 against the alleged violence by the lawyers outside Tis Hazari court and Saket court. The police virtually revolted against their own senior officers seeking action against the lawyers who had attacked them. The national capital witnessed a first-of-its-kind protest, where “protectors demanded protection”.

Around 10,000 policemen and women gathered in solidarity for the injured personnel and wanted to hear a word of assurance from the Police Commissioner Amulya Patnaik. With placards stating “How’s the josh? Low sir”, “Police also has human rights”, “Where is NHRC?” police personnel of various ranks surrounded their own HQ, demanding protection and justice.

The violence occurred on November 2 at the Tis Hazari court which flared up due to a parking issue between constable Pradeep Kumar and lawyer Sagar Sharma. The latter had parked his car in the spot designated for jail vans. The altercation led to rising tempers. A dozen policemen gathered and Assistant Sub Inspector Kanta Prasad is said to have allegedly dragged a lawyer into the lock-up.

In the available footage, the lawyer is seen manhandling the police constable. Later, more than two dozen lawyers barged into the lockup area and beat up the SHO and constables while destroying property. The reason advocates had gone berserk, they claim, was a bullet shot. It was Assistant Sub Inspector Pawan Kumar, who allegedly shot twice at the gate and one of the bullets hit the lawyer.

In his statement, the ASI says, “They hit my head against a bus and then kicked me on my face and stomach. I told them I am not deployed at Tis Hazari and that I have two kids but they didn’t listen. I thought I would die.” Later, the SHO of the area reached the spot but he was also manhandled.

In a statement to The Indian Express, an officer said, “To escape, Additional DCP (North) Harinder Singh who had reached the complex, went to the lock-up and locked himself and several other personnel inside. The firing agitated lawyers and they started pelting stones. They also set three motorbikes on fire and smoke started gathering inside the lock-up, which also had 150 inmates.”

In a special sitting by the Delhi High Court on November 3 (Sunday), the bench comprising Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice C Hari Shankar set up a judicial inquiry under the chairmanship of former Delhi HC judge Justice SP Garg and gave a time span of six weeks to complete the probe. The court also suspended the ASI Pawan Kumar, who allegedly shot at a lawyer, and ASI Kanta Prasad, who allegedly dragged a lawyer into the lock-up.

Additional Deputy Commissioner (North) Harinder Singh, who reportedly gave the order to fire, and Special Commissioner Sanjay Singh, who allegedly ordered the lathicharge, were transferred. Another point in the High Court’s decision which raised the eyebrows of the Delhi policemen was “No coercive action shall be taken against the Advocates in pursuance of FIRs with regard to the aforesaid incident filed against Advocates.”

The following day, on November 4, lawyers thrashed a policeman outside the Saket court. In a video of the purported assault, lawyer Kapil Tanwar can be seen beating up the policeman who is riding a motorbike. One of the lawyers even throws a helmet at the policeman as he tries to ride away.

“The order given by the court is biased. Our people have been suspended even without a proper inquiry into the matter and a senior officer has been transferred only because he was following orders,” complained Amit Kalkhande, a sub-inspector who attended the protest, referring to the High Court’s order. “Our duty is to uphold the law and ensure that justice prevails. The irony is the law is not able to protect us and it hasn’t been able to provide us justice,” Amit told Patriot.

A woman constable who asked not to be named said, “We have gathered here not because of a fight between police and lawyers. We are here to protest against the High Court’s order which is completely one-sided. It says ‘no coercive action will be taken against the lawyers. If an inquiry was ordered, then what was the need to suspend the officials.”

Referring to the assault on a policeman outside the Saket court, she told Patriot, “If this situation goes on, they might even kill us some day. We are scared for our families. In such a situation, how can we protect a common man? Our senior officers must approach the Supreme Court against the order as judges are not gods, they can be wrong.”

In an act of solidarity, some residents brought food and water for the protesters. “We saw hundreds of policemen protesting since morning and thought we should at least provide them some food as they are a protective wall for us,” said a man who had come from Janakpuri East.

Addressing the protesters, Delhi Police Commissioner Amulya Patnaik said, “We have to behave like a disciplined force. The government and the people expect us to uphold the law, it is our big responsibility. I urge you to resume duty.”

He was, however, booed by the protesters, who alleged that he had not visited their injured comrades. They also shouted, “Humara CP kaisa ho, Kiran Bedi jaisa ho.” (“How should our police commissioner be? Like Kiran Bedi,”) they chanted, referring to the lieutenant governor of Puducherry who was once a prominent officer with the Delhi Police.

Constable Mahendar Singh, who held a placard saying “How’s the josh? Low sir..” during the protest said that “All the fault is of lawyers, they barged into the lockup, took away the pistol and burnt the vehicles parked outside. It was a threatening situation, and even the 100 hardened criminals could have escaped seeing the stampede like situation.” Responding to the question of firing, Mahendar told Patriot, “Why do we have weapons? It’s not there to go and shoot everyone but at least if the situation comes down to our life, then we will use it, otherwise administration should take away all our weapons, we don’t keep  them just for show.”

Criticising the decision of the Delhi High Court and even the lethargic attitude of the senior police officers, he said, “Everyone is working under tremendous pressure, no one wants to get transferred to Andaman. Most of them want post-retirement jobs, hence it’s the common man and we who suffers.”

A traffic cop who stood by the Delhi Police in their protest alleged that “These lawyers will one day even beat up the Prime Minister, they are acting like goons.” But later in the evening at around 9 pm, the police force agreed to call off their stir as most of their demands were accepted by senior officials. Meanwhile, the Delhi Police Commissioner submitted a report to the Ministry of Home Affairs about the incident and the Ministry filed an application in the Delhi High Court seeking review of its aforesaid order and was seeking a freehand and to act against the lawyers for all acts of assaults except the two FIRs lodged at the Tis Hazari court incident.

The ministry stated, “Law must take place without fetters”. But in a jolt to the MHA and Delhi Police, the bench comprising Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Harishanker disposed of the applications filed by the Ministry of Home Affairs seeking clarification and review of the November 3 order.

On November 6, it was the turn of lawyers to protest although they had been on strike since November 2. This time, the advocates went a step ahead and closed the gates of the district courts at Saket and Rohini while two lawyers allegedly attempted suicide in the premises of Rohini court claiming “grave injustice on the part of police and judiciary as the ASI who shot the lawyer in his chest was only suspended and not arrested on the charges of attempt to murder.”

One of the lawyers identified as Ashish tried to immolate himself by pouring petrol on his body and the other climbed the rooftop of the Rohini court and threatened to jump if his demands are not met. Work at the Saket, Rohini, Patiala House and Tis Hazari courts remain affected as all the advocates were on strike and had boycotted the judicial workings. The chants of “‘Delhi Police hai hai” and “We want justice” reverberated inside and outside the premises of the courts.

When this reporter visited Tis Hazari, another vehicle was parked in the same area with a sticker of Delhi Bar Association. The spot had two big boards which had clearly written on them: “Parking for Jail Vans”. With around 12-13 CCTV cameras surrounding the incident spot, the combined footage can reveal the truth.

Talking to the Patriot on November 5, Vaibhav, a lawyer who practices at  Tis Hazari narrated the entire incident in a different manner. He said “Parking was the issue so even if the car was wrongly parked there was no point of firing by the police and that too at the chest of the lawyer.”

Vaibhav claimed, “It was the constable who started the fight as he cornered the lawyer Sagar Sharma and did not let him go. Pulling him by his collar, he with his other mates took Sagar inside the lockup. When 6-7 lawyers started arguing with police to release Sagar and register a FIR if an offence has been committed, police officials ignored the demand and continued to hold the man hostage.”

Vaibhav claims that there had been no violence done by the lawyers and whatever everyone is seeing on footage is the outrage and outcome of the firing. He also added that “selective CCTV footage has been leaked to the media in order to portray Delhi Police as the victim but that isn’t the case.”

He further says, “After the scuffle became big and before the firing incident, the District Judge of the Tis Hazari court along with four other judges visited the spot and asked the police to settle the matter but even their requests were ignored.” Vaibhav alleges, “Police misused its powers, even if the vehicle was parked in No Parking zone, the law says to tow it away or fine the person and not to take him in the lockup, beat him up and shoot the agitating lawyers.”