Road rage case involving Manipur CM's son leaves lawyer & family fearing for their lives
On 3 May, Supreme Court lawyer Utsav Singh Bains had written a letter to the Home Ministry for receiving threats from militant organisations in Manipur for dropping a case. Bains is representing the family of Irom Roger, who was shot dead by N Ajai Singh, son of incumbent BJP chief minister N Biren Singh in a road rage incident in 2011.
According to Bains, he decided to take the case since no lawyer in Manipur agreed to represent the family allegedly because of the fear of the chief minister.
In the wake of these developments, the All Manipur Bar Association (AMBA) has filed a complaint against Bains with the Chairman of the Bar Council of India claiming that the allegation that no lawyer was willing to take the case is purely “fabricated and false”.
On behalf of AMBA, B Supriya Devi, General Secretary, wrote to the Chairman of the Bar Council claiming that after the news surfaced an emergency meeting was convened to discuss the issue of the threat to Bains and his allegation that no lawyer agreed to take the case.
In the letter, Supriya Devi wrote, “In this regard, although we would not ascertain, for certain, the truth of allegation regarding the threat to Mr Bains by some alleged underground outfits, one allegation was clarified during the meeting that neither Mr Utsav Bains nor his colleagues or family members of the victim ever approached any of the lawyers practicing in Manipur, to represent the case of the family.”
The letter requested the Bar Council to take appropriate disciplinary action against Bains and also refrain him and his clients to politicise the issue or make it into a media trial. A close member of the Roger family, who requested for anonymity, claimed that even the Bar Council is acting under pressure from the Chief Minister.
Earlier on 22 May, the family filed a protection petition in the Supreme Court wherein they claimed that they feared for their lives and were being hounded by the police. As a result, a vacation Bench comprising justices L Nageswara Rao and Navin Sinha issued notices to the Centre and Manipur government and asked them to respond by 29 May on the plea by Roger’s mother, Irom Chitra Devi.
The family accused the Chief Minister of using the police to intimidate them. The family claimed that the state police raided their house, illegally detained Chitra's brother, cut off electricity to their house while the chief minister reached out to them for a compromise. When Roger's family realised that it was unsafe for them in Manipur, they approached the apex court for protection.
The incident and trial
In 2011, Chitra's 18-year-old son was shot dead by Ajai in a fit of road rage which led to massive outrage amongst the public. Amid public pressure, the then Congress government transferred the case to CBI. After four and half years of trial, an Imphal Session Court in January 2017 held Ajai guilty of “homicide not amounting to murder” under section 304 (2) and sentenced him to five years in prison.
However, Ajai challenged the order in the High Court and sought bail on grounds of good conduct. Upset with the order and Ajai applying for bail, Chitra Devi decided to file a petition in the High Court against the order for not charging him of mudrer. She also feared that since Ajai is the son of the chief minister, he could easily get bail. It was then that the family approached local lawyers but none of them decided to take the case out of fear of the chief minister.
The family then met human rights activist Binalakshmi Nepram who approached Bains and asked him to take the case. However, Nepram's family was being pressurised too and she claimed that the armed personnel harassed her old parents because she was helping Roger's family get a lawyer.
In a press note, she wrote, “Heavily armed state police force entered my parental house at around 1.30 pm in the afternoon on May 12 and asked for me in a very intimidating manner.”
Bains even tried approaching local lawyers, who have informed Catch that they feared for their lives and refused to take the case. It was then that Bains, who despite facing threats from underground outfits, reached Imphal to file the petition claiming that CBI botched up the case by not accusing Ajai of murder.
Bains had earlier written to the Home Ministry seeking protection while visiting Imphal from May 10 onwards, but he didn't receive any security cover. In his letter to the chief secretary, Bains claimed that he received WhatsApp call on 22 March from a man who spoke in broken English who claimed to be from PLA (Peoples Liberation Army), Manipur and NSCIM (NSCN-Isak-Muivah). He asked Bains to not take up the case of Rogers.
“I couldn’t understand what was PLA or NSCIM during the call but later when I searched for both on Google, I came to know that PLA is terror organisation operating in the North East but couldn’t find clarity as to NSCIM. Later during the day (March 22), I informed [the] superintendent of police (CID) Imphal, Manipur, about the threatening calls,” read the letter.
Many believe that one of the pressing reasons for Biren Singh to switch over to BJP from Congress was Ajai's case, which was highlighted by Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi who accused the CBI of diluting the case.
While addressing the media on the Supreme Court's notice to the Centre and state government, Singhvi said, “The most important part is which agency is investigating the case – CBI. BJP is at Centre and in state so the question arises whether this was the reason that he became the chief minister, switched parties, destabilised the government so that his son can be set free.”
Meanwhile, the apex court will receive the responses of the Centre and the state government on 29 May, which will decide the next course of action. The family is hoping to get protection so that they can pursue the case and push for pressing murder charges against the Chief Minister's son.