The Bombay High Court on Monday directed the Commissioner of Police, Mumbai, to set up a special investigation team (SIT) consisting of two police officers within 24 hours to investigate the matter where four policemen allegedly assaulted a man to death for violating the lockdown in Vile Parle in March.
A Division Bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Anuja Prabhudessai was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by an advocate Firdause Irani, which cited instances of police brutality inflicted on kirana shop and dairy store owners during the lockdown. The PIL said that uniformed police personnel without name and badges, accompanied by local youth and municipal workers in civil dress, were at the fore of committing acts of violence.
Advocate Gopal Sankarnarayan representing Mr. Irani told the court that there were 13 videos that showed policemen assaulting people with lathis or slapping them without even asking the reason behind their travel.
The Bench, however, said, “Police brutality is only one side of the coin. The truth is there are many amongst us who do not care about the lockdown guidelines and do not comply with the restrictions. There are black sheep everywhere.”
Mr. Sankarnarayan contended that even if there were violators of the lockdown restrictions, this did not give the police the right to assault any person.
The Bench then said it could not sit to decide in which case or situation the use of lathis, tear gas or force may be required. “Every case or situation cannot be painted with the same brush. If people violate laws, then they have to be dealt with strong hands,” the HC said.
The Bench said that the police had been given the task to safeguard interests of the general public. “In such a situation, some policemen think just because they have a lathi they can use it.”
The HC said, “Prima facie, the police have been dragging their feet and the situation that has since emerged leaves a lot to be desired. We have no option but to direct the Commissioner of Police, Mumbai, to constitute a SIT comprising two police officers of impeccable integrity and unquestionable competence. Such officers shall be appointed by the Commissioner of Police within 24 hours.”
“We hope and trust that the SIT shall fairly, freely, efficiently and meaningfully conduct and complete the investigation and be in a position to place the police report by the time we assemble next on September 21,” the Bench said.
The HC also asked Mr. Irani to submit his suggestions on how the police should handle such violators.
In the last hearing, the Assistant Commissioner of Police, Bandra division, filed a status report that said, “Four policemen have been identified, who allegedly assaulted the man while on night duty on March 29. The police department has proposed to conduct departmental proceedings against them.”