Nearly nine months ago, on the evening of 12 February 2015, a day before Home Minister Rajnath Singh left for a two-day tour of Manipur and Tripura, his ministry issued a surprising, albeit welcome notification. In December 2014, the government had appointed a two-member committee led by Justice GP Mathur, a retired Supreme Court judge, to examine the possibility of re-investigating the anti-Sikh massacre in 1984. In the report that it submitted in January this year, the panel noted that, “a proper investigation of the offences committed was not conducted,” and that, “some kind of sham effort had been made to give it the shape of investigations.” It went on to recommend the constitution of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to remedy this collective oversight. The notification indicated that the government had accepted the committee’s suggestion and was forming a three-member SIT. This team consisted of Rakesh Kapoor, a retired district and sessions judge; Kumar Gyanesh, additional deputy commissioner of police in the Delhi police; and Pramod Asthana, a senior officer from the Indian Police Service who was heading the SIT.
The SIT had a six-month deadline to re-examine the evidence in criminal cases relating to the acts of violence that erupted in 1984. The team was given the authority to file charge sheets in the concerned courts and reopen cases that the Delhi police had not investigated or had closed due to lack of evidence. “Every crime should be urgently investigated, and this particular matter is decades old. I felt that there is requirement of a new investigation, and that’s why I recommended the constitution of the SIT,” Justice Mathur told me when I spoke to him over the phone on Wednesday.
“There was a lot of expectation from the SIT when it was constituted,” HS Phoolka, a senior lawyer who has been representing the victims of the massacre pro bono since 1984, told me when I met him in his chamber at the Delhi High Court. But, when the six-month deadline elapsed in August, the functioning of the SIT began taking a distressingly familiar route. The only news that emerged was that it had been given an year-long extension to submit its report. The SIT, so far, Phoolka told me, had not moved an inch in any direction. “They have made absolutely no progress on anything. Not only they haven’t reached out to any of the victims, when one of the victims sent the SIT a complaint, it was returned without any comment,” said Phoolka, “They did not even accept it!”
According to Phoolka, even the constitution of the SIT was the outcome of a “credit game” that the central government is playing with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). (Phoolka joined the AAP in 2014, and unsuccessfully contested the Lok Sabha polls as the party’s candidate from Ludhiana in Punjab. Last month he resigned from all party posts in order to devote his attention to the cases of 1984.) “The AAP had announced the formation of the SIT for looking into 1984 riots in its first stint in power in 2014, and they were going to do it again after assuming office on 14 February,” said Phoolka, “so the central government did it in haste to get the credit.”
When I asked Justice Mathur about the state of the SIT that had been established on his recommendation, he said, “See, this is not my domain.” He added, “Mr Phoolka had a chat with me as well, but I have no control over the working of the SIT. I really have no idea of what they are doing.” Last week, in what promised to be a respite from this bureaucratic lassitude, Justice Mathur helped arrange a meeting between members of the SIT and Phoolka. Soon after, Phoolka told me, “I got a call from some inspector who said that the meeting is cancelled.”
On 17 November, I contacted Asthana to ask him about the progress of the investigation. He said, “We are scrutinising a lot of the cases, and when that is finished, we will prepare a report and send it to the ministry [of home affairs].” He did not appear to be overly concerned about the pace at which the SIT was conducting its probe. “Has the SIT spoken to any of the victims or found any fresh evidence so far?” I asked. Asthana responded by telling me that it would be easier for me to understand the process if I were to meet him in person, and asked me to drop by his office at Lok Nayak Bhavan, later that day. The meeting never took place. A little more than hour after I spoke to Asthana over the phone, a man who identified himself as an inspector from Lok Nayak Bhavan called me. He curtly informed me that a status report of the SIT’s working could only be acquired from the ministry. Subsequently, I attempted to reach Asthana, but was unable to get in touch with him despite repeated attempts. A day later, I called him from a colleague’s phone. “I do not have the required permission from the ministry to speak to the media,” he informed me, in a tone that was equal parts exasparated and determined.
What Phoolka had initially referred to as a “credit game” has now begun taking a hue that seems far more sinister to him. “By appointing their team, they [the central government] have ensured that no progress could be made in the investigation.” He concluded, “It was a step taken with the intention to frustrate the victims.”
The ministry itself has been anything but forthcoming in discussing the work of the team of investigators it had brought together in such an expeditious manner. On calling Rajnath Singh’s office, I was directed to Nitesh Kumar Jha, his private secretary. Jha told me, “You would have to talk to the official spokesperson, MK Ganapathy.” Ganapathy claimed that he was not in a position to speak to me about the SIT either. He told me that the only person who would know about its progress is Dilip Kumar, the joint secretary of the ministry’s union territory division. Kumar’s personal assistant pointed me towards the deputy secretary of his department, MA Vijayan. At the end of this trail, Vijayan, finally, spoke as bureaucrats often do, in present continuous tense. “Uh…It is going on,” he said, before continuing, not very convincingly, “They haven’t given any reports so far…they probably did send some report, but I don’t know. The members are the only ones who know.” “But Mr Asthana told me that he is not authorised to speak to the media,” I told Vijayan. “That is the correct answer,” he said, adding, in jest, “And I am not authorised to speak either.”
Atul Dev is a staff writer at The Caravan.