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SSP failed to discharge duty: SC-appointed panel on PM’s security breach in Punjab

The Supreme Court-appointed committee instituted to probe the breach of security arrangements for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Punjab early this year has faulted the then Ferozepur Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) for the scary scenario that unfolded at the height of the privileged Punjabi farmers' protest. Headed by former Supreme Court judge Justice Indu Malhotra, the committee said Harmandeep Singh Hans had failed to augment security along the Prime Minister’s route despite having time, sufficient forces and knowledge of protesting groups.

On 5 January, Prime Minister Modi’s convoy set out from Bathinda airport to Hussainiwala in Ferozepur but ran into a blockade by protesters on the way. The convoy was stranded on a flyover for 15-20 min, an awful breach of security protocol.

On 7 January, the court directed the Punjab and Haryana High Court Registrar General to seize and secure all records regarding the security for the PM’s visit and keep them in safe custody. Subsequently, the court was told that "the relevant records have been received, seized, and secured" and "sealed and placed in the custody of the Punjab and Haryana High Court". It then directed that the seized records be handed over to the chairperson of the inquiry committee. The Centre had earlier set up a committee on its own to probe the matter and urged the court to allow it to complete its task. The Punjab government opposed this, which said it had "no hope" in the Centre’s committee and requested the court to constitute an "independent" one.

On 8 January, Hans, an officer, was transferred and posted as commandant of the 3rd IRB battalion in Ludhiana.

Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, heading a three-judge bench that also comprised Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, perused the committee's report and read it on 25 August.

"There was sufficient time of approximately two hours from 10.20 onwards when G Nageshwar Rao (Additional Director General of Police) informed (Hans) that the Prime Minister would be taking the contingency route and the route should be adequately strengthened. Despite clear instructions from G Nageshwar Rao, at least 2 h before the prime minister entered Ferozepur, the Ferozepur failed to act upon the instructions of G Nageshwar Rao," the CJI cited the report as saying. He said the court would send the report to the government. "Let the government take action."

The CJI was requested to make a redacted version available. Justice Ramana said the bench was not sure as the report may have sensitive information on security arrangements.

Reading from it, the CJI said: "(The SSP) failed to discharge his responsibilities to maintain law and order… or take any steps for deployment to strengthen the route in Ferozepur, even though he was fully aware that there were large hostile groups who have come to block the route… He failed to augment and strengthen the route in Ferozepur even though there were sufficient forces available with him."

The report also made recommendations for enhancing the Prime Minister’s security while on tour, including the constitution of an oversight committee for periodic revision and updating of the "Blue " and holding sensitisation courses for training police officers.

Meanwhile, the was not available for comment despite multiple attempts. He also did not respond to text messages.

Hearing a Delhi-based NGO called Lawyer’s Voice plea, the top court had on January 12 appointed its former judge, Justice Malhotra, to head a committee to probe the security breach.

The terms of reference for the enquiry committee were: What were the causes for the security breach for the incident on 5th January 2022; Who is responsible for such a breach, and to what extent; What should be the remedial measures or safeguards necessary for the security of the Hon’ble Prime Minister or other protectees; Any suggestions or recommendations for improving the safety and security of other Constitutional functionaries; Any other incidental issue that the Committee may deem fit and proper.

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