A Delhi court has framed charges of rioting and arson against nine accused in a February 2020 riots case, saying that it would be a "miscarriage of justice" to throw out the prosecution's case merely because the statements of the public witnesses were recorded after a delay.
Additional Sessions Judge Virender Bhat said that the delay in recording statements of the witnesses by the police was not deliberate or contumacious and was occasioned on account of the situation which prevailed in Delhi's northeast area during and after the alleged rioting.
The nine accused were allegedly part of the unlawful assembly and caused damage, looted properties worth crores of rupees, burnt a large number of houses, shops, schools, and vehicles on February 25, 2020, as per the police. It relied on the statements of four public witnesses.
The judge took exception to the submission made by the defence counsel that the public witnesses were not trustworthy and were planted as their statements were recorded one month after the date of the alleged incident.
The judge noted that there was an atmosphere of terror and trauma for several days even after these riots and the public witnesses were terrified and reluctant to present their version of the incident before the investigating agency.
"Keeping these circumstances in view, it would be a miscarriage of justice to disbelieve the statements of these witnesses at this very stage and throw out the prosecution case merely for the reason that their statements were recorded after about one month of the incident," ASJ Bhat stated in an order dated October 11.
He added, "In the opinion of this court, the delay in recording of the statements of witnesses does not appear to be deliberate or contumacious. It appears to have occasioned on account of the situation which prevailed in the area during and after the incident of rioting and therefore, the accused cannot claim discharge in this case merely on this score."
During the course of the hearing, Delhi Police apprised the court that the nine accused created disharmony in the society by threatening and terrorizing the public at large and that their action was not only antinational but also a challenge to Rules of Law in Delhi.
The defence counsels, however, submitted that CCTV video footage which forms part of the charge sheet in the case pertains to the date February 24, whereas the incident admittedly took place on February 25, 2020.
The counsels pointed out that there was no CCTV video footage on record which pertains to the date February 25, a fact not disputed by the senior public prosecutor, according to the court's order.
However, the prosecutor said that they did not rely on the CCTV video footage and that their case is based on other evidence on record, including the ocular version of the witnesses.
After considering the entire material on record, the judge said that it is prima facie evident that the charges under Sections 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with a deadly weapon), 149 (unlawful assembly), 380 (theft), 427 (mischief), 436 (arson), 452 (house-trespass) of the Indian Penal Code are liable to be framed against all the accused.