Prakash Singh Committee report: a Pandora's box for the Khattar government
The report submitted by Prakash Singh, former Director General of Police (DGP) of Uttar Pradesh and Assam, on omissions and commissions on the part of civil and police officials during the Jat reservation agitation of 7-22 February, is snowballing into a major headache for the Haryana government led by Manohar Lal Khattar.
While the Opposition Congress and Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) have gone on the offensive demanding that the report be made public, there are strong murmurs of discontent among the officials on the locus standi of the one-man Prakash Singh committee in the face of a two-member probe commission later set up under (Retired) Justice SN Jha.
With the latter being constituted under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952 to inquire into the sequence of events leading to, and all facts and circumstances relating to, the occurrence of violence leading to loss of lives, damage to properties, both private and public including roads, canals, railway stations, police stations and illegal felling of trees and violation of human rights from 18-23 February in Rohtak, Jhajjar, Sonepat, Jind, Hisar, Kaithal and Bhiwani, left very little scope for the Prakash Singh panel.
The other member of the SN Jha Commission is a former IPS officer, NC Padhi, who has earlier worked as a secretary (security) with the Central government. It has been pointed out time and again, that while the Jha Commission has been constituted under a statute, the Prakash Singh panel did not have any statutory backing.
The Prakash Singh Committee submitted its report on 13 May after hearing 2,217 persons and interacting with administrative and police officers. The report comprises a main section of 450 pages and a 40-page section on the role of intelligence in the context of the riots and arson in Rohtak, Jhajjar, Jind, Hisar, Kaithal, Bhiwani, Sonepat and Panipat.
Prakash Singh has reportedly indicted 90 officials. The government recently suspended 13 officials including three sub-divisional magistrates and 10 Deputy Superintendents of Police (DSPs). It had earlier shunted out additional chief secretary (Home) PK Das from his post. However, the government had to reinstate IPS officer Shrikant Jadhav who had been posted in Rohtak at the time of the agitation and was the first one to be suspended. He has now been posted as Inspector General of Police with the State Crime Record Bureau at Madhuban. Sources said that his reinstatement is on technical grounds as the authorities were unable to chargesheet him in the stipulated time.
The Prakash Singh Panel reportedly giving a clean chit to the intelligence wing in its 37-page second volume has raised several eyebrows. Former Congress minister Captain Ajay Yadav while terming the Committee report invalid said, "The committee report is nothing but a document gotten prepared by the government as per its wishes. The government must clarify that if there was no intelligence failure, then why the government did not take any action if it had received required inputs."
Accusing the state government of trying to protect those involved in arson and violence during the Jat agitation for reservation in educational institutions and government jobs, he said,"many senior bureaucrats have pointed out that they did not get the required force despite appeals to the government. Many judicial officers have also pointed towards their helplessness."
The Prakash Singh Committee has reportedly discarded the conspiracy angle during the riots. This has led to question whether it had the mandate to look into the conspiracy aspect. Secondly, if this is true, then the claims of state BJP leadership on the Opposition conspiring to fuel unrest and violence fall flat on their face. It also raises questions on the sedition cases against Prof Virender, an aide of former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, on the basis of an audio clip, a Rohtak lawyer Sudip Kalkal and a Jat leader Manoj Duhan.
Questions are also being raised on the recent suspensions ordered by the government. Captain Yadav said, "The Haryana government has been taking action against lower-level officers while top officers are being protected."
Senior INLD leader Abhay Chautala said, "If he has indicted 90 officials why has action only been taken against 13 till now? The purpose of this committee was just to cover up the failures of the state government. It was constituted to harass the people."
The pressure on the Khattar government to make the report public is increasing day by day. "What is the government trying to hide ? It should make the report public and the people see for themselves what the committee found out. It will make things clear on what led to the violence and who was responsible for not being able to curtail it," said Congress president Ashok Tanwar.
"They will never make the report public because it will expose their own ministers and MLAs. Prakash Singh has said that he was under pressure by BJP leaders to influence the course of the probe," Chautala stated while referring to media reports.
Chief Minister Khattar said his government would submit the report to the Punjab and Haryana High Court that has asked for it. He said in Kurukshetra that the report is being studied and departmental action is being initiated in keeping with its findings.
Doubts are also being raised about the report having a tilt in favour of IPS officers while being scathing on their administrative counterparts.
Political analyst Balwant Takshak said, "By suspending officials, Khattar is trying to send across a message that he is a strong administrator with no-nonsense attitude. But he should answer who were the people at the helm of the political set-up who had failed to direct these officials to act. The government facing criticism for its inefficient handling of the situation and its non-performance over the last two years is trying to divert attention while failing to take responsibility."
He further said that the strategy of the BJP in various states has been to finish off Opposition leaders with a mass base by targeting them, and this has been evident in the case of what has been done to former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda.
Edited by Anna Verghese
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