Supreme Court: After a massive security lapse that left Prime Minister Narendra Modi stuck on a highway in Punjab for 20 minutes on January 5, 2022, the 3-judge bench of NV Ramana, CJ and Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, JJ has observed that the matter cannot be left to be resolved through one¬sided enquiries and a judicially trained independent mind, duly assisted by officers who are well acquainted with the security considerations and the Registrar General of the High Court who has seized the record, would be best placed to effectively visit all issues and submit a comprehensive report. The Court, hence, formed a committee to be chaired by Justice Indu Malhotra, former Supreme Court Judges.
The Enquiry Committee
- Justice Indu Malhotra, former Supreme Court Judges – Chairperson
- Director General or his nominee not below the rank of Inspector General of Police of National Investigation Agency;
- Director General of Police, Union Territory of Chandigarh
- Additional Director General of Police (Security), State of Punjab
- Registrar General, Punjab and Haryana High Court
Terms of Reference for the Enquiry Committee
- What were the causes for the security breach for the incident on 5th January 2022?
- Who are responsible for such a breach, and to what extent?
- What should be the remedial measures or safeguards necessary for the security of the Hon’ble Prime Minister or other Protectees?
- Any suggestions or recommendations for improving the safety and security of other Constitutional functionaries.
- Any other incidental issue that the Committee may deem fit and proper.
The entire record seized pursuant to order dated 7th January, 2022, be handed over to the Chairperson of the Enquiry Committee within three days.
The Union of India and State Government are directed to provide full assistance to the Enquiry Committee for completion of the assigned task.
The Chairperson of the Enquiry Committee shall be entitled to all the perks of a sitting Supreme Court Judge minus pension. They shall be provided full secretarial assistance, official car and other paraphernalia for effective completion of the enquiry, as directed above.
Till conclusion of the proceedings of the Enquiry Committee, the enquiries ordered by the Central Government and the State Government shall be kept in abeyance.
What has happened in the case so far?
On January 7, 2022, the Court had directed the Registrar General, Punjab and Haryana High Court to secure and preserve the records relating to Prime Minister’s scheduled tour of Punjab on 05th January 2022.
The State of Punjab had constituted a Committee to carry out a thorough probe. This Committee comprised of a Former Judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court and Principal Secretary, Home Affairs and Justice, Government of Punjab. The petitioner has however urged that since lapses in the breach of security of the Prime Minister are being seriously attributed to the authorities of the State of Punjab, the constitution of an Enquiry Committee by the State was nothing but an abortive attempt to become a Judge in its own cause.
The Advocate General for the State of Punjab, on the other hand, urged that the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India has, in a way, already held the officers of Government of Punjab ‘guilty’ of the alleged negligence and/or breach of security of the Prime Minister. He submitted that none of the agencies of the State Government had committed a dereliction of their responsibility for the security and safety of the Hon’ble Prime Minister, yet there is a smear campaign to discredit the State Government.
Supreme Court’s Observations
While the lapse regarding the breach of security of the Prime Minister during his visit to Firozpur on 5th January, 2022 is not seriously disputed by either party, the Court, however, did not appreciate the blame game between the State and Central Government as to who is responsible for such lapses.
“War of words between them is no solution. It may rather impair the need of a robust mechanism to respond at such a critical juncture.”
Going through the legislative scheme of the Special Protection Group Act, 1988 as well as the Blue Book the Court observed that the object is to ensure full safety and security of the Prime Minister while he is touring a State. The additional object is to avoid any human error, negligence or any willful omission or commission which may hamper and/or expose the safety and security of the Executive Head of the nation while he is traveling in a particular State. Any lapse in this regard can lead to devastating and serious consequences.
The Court has, hence, asked the Enquiry Committee to submit its report at the earliest.
[Lawyers Voice v. State of Punjab, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 42, order dated 12.01.2022]