The Supreme Court on Friday transferred the Manipur violence cases being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to Assam and asked the Gauhati High Court's Chief Justice to nominate judges for the trials.
The SC bench headed by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud also said the accused would be produced in Assam's courts virtually.
The Supreme Court order comes after the Centre transferred a total of 17 cases to the CBI and asked the SC to transfer the trials out of Manipur. Last month, the Centre informed the SC that it seeks the completion of the trial within six months of the filing of the charge sheet.
The top court passed a slew of directions on judicial procedures, including the virtual examination of victims and witnesses by courts, saying they have been issued “at the present stage, bearing in mind the overall environment in Manipur and the need for ensuring a fair process of criminal justice administration”.
“Both sides (Kuki and Meiteis) have been hurt …There have been victims in valleys, and in hills. It would be difficult for people who suffered in valleys to travel to hills, and the other way round. We are not on who suffered more, just the practical difficulty,” the CJI said, adding the top court will pass orders which will be fair to both sides.
Issuing directions, the bench said, “We request the Chief Justice of the Gauhati High Court to nominate one or more officers above the rank of Judicial Magistrate First Class/sessions judge In Guwahati in Assam to deal with such trial cases. The Chief Justice to preferably select judges who are conversant in one or more languages of Manipur.”
All applications for the production of the accused, remand, judicial custody, extension of custody, and other proceedings in connection with the investigations are allowed to be conducted on the online mode, bearing in mind both distance and security issues at the designated courts, it directed.
Initially, only the case related to the naked parade and sexual assault of two tribal women by a mob was handed to the CBI but the number subsequently increased to 17 this month. The CBI has deployed a team of 53 officers comprising three Deputy Inspectors General (DIGs).
While the cases will be tried in Assam, the SC said judicial custody of the accused, if and when granted, will be done in Manipur to obviate transit.
Moreover, the statements of witnesses can be recorded in Manipur and the High Court Chief Justice would appoint magistrates for the purpose.
"Section 164 CrPC statements are permitted to be recorded in presence of local magistrate in Manipur, or as the case may be, where witnesses reside outside Manipur. Acting CJ of Manipur HC shall designate one or more magistrates for this purpose. Test identification parade (TIP) are permitted to take place in presence of local magistrates nominated by Acting CJ," said Chandrachud, as per Live Law.
The SC also permitted persons, including victims, witnesses and others related to CBI cases, to appear physically before the designated Gauhati court if they don't want to appear online, reported PTI, adding that it also directed the Manipur government to provide proper internet services to facilitate hearing in CBI cases through online mode at the Gauhati court.
Taking note of the submissions of senior advocate Indira Jaising, appearing for one the parties, the bench permitted people, including victims, witnesses and others related to CBI cases, to appear physically before the designated Gauhati courts if they do not want to appear online and said its “order shall not preclude those who wish to appear physically in Guwahati.”
It directed the Manipur government to provide proper internet services to facilitate hearing of CBI cases online at the Gauhati court. The bench said it will pass “certain procedural directions” on September 1 to facilitate smooth functioning of the three member-panel of women judges headed by Justice Gita Mittal, a former Chief Justice of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court.
“We chose it for the connectivity and the maximum (internet) connectivity is in Assam,” the law officer said.
The Test Identification parades, conducted to identify the accused, are permitted to take place through video conferencing in the presence of a Manipur-based magistrate among the magistrates who are designated by the acting chief justice of the Manipur High Court, it said.
“Applications such as seeking search and arrest warrants will be issued by the investigating officer through the online mode,” it said.
The committee, constituted by the apex court on August 21 to oversee relief and rehabilitation of those hit by ethnic violence in the border state, Monday submitted three reports highlighting the need for reconstruction of identity documents, upgradation of compensation and appointment of domain experts to facilitate its functioning.
The top court will pass orders to deal with issues pertaining to administrative requisitions, funding to meet administrative and other expenses, and setting up a web portal to provide necessary publicity to the work being done by the Justice Mittal panel.