A Delhi court has discharged eight accused from the charge of causing arson during the February 2020 riots, noting there is no CCTV footage and no complainant has identified them or alleged that they committed the offence. Additional Sessions Judge Vinod Yadav said the ingredients of Section 436 of the Indian Penal Code (mischief by fire or explosive substance), which was added in the charge sheet, are “not at all made out” from the material produced by the investigating agency.
Eight people were arrested based on 12 complaints filed by various shopkeepers who alleged that their shops were allegedly looted and vandalised by the riotous mob during the communal violence in northeast Delhi. The accused were arrested based on disclosure statements given by them in other cases filed against them and identification by police constables, who were posted as beat officers in that area.
Discharging eight accused, the judge said Section 436 IPC cannot be invoked merely on the basis of statements given by police constables as the 12 complainants had stated nothing in this regard in their written complaints. “A fine-tooth-comb analysis of written complaints reveals that none of the complainants has identified the accused persons to be part of the riotous mob which had vandalised their shops, the sessions judge said in an order dated September 10. He further said there are no allegations by the complainants regarding the commission of arson in their shops and as such ingredients of Section 436 IPC are not at all made out either from complaints or statements. Even from the photographs filed on record, no incident of committing mischief by fire or explosive substance is borne out, he said, adding that there is no CCTV footage or video clip of the incident on record.
Furthermore, ASJ Yadav said there is no connecting evidence on record in the form of statements of independent eyewitnesses who could have seen the accused persons at the time of the incident. The judge said one complainant said the alleged crime took place on February 25, while the others claimed that it happened on February 24.
“Whether these complaints of different dates could have been clubbed by the investigating agency in one FIR is a question which will be seen during the course of the trial, the judge said. The police submitted that the distance between the various spots where looting and vandalisation took place is not much and the same unlawful assembly was operating in the area on February 24 and 25 and as such, they could be said to be part of the same transaction and accordingly one single FIR serves the purpose in this case.
The other sections invoked in the charge sheet such as sections 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with a deadly weapon), 149 (unlawful assembly), 457 (house-trespass), 380 (theft), 411 (receiving stolen property) are “exclusively triable” by a magistrate, the judge said. He ordered for the case to be transferred before the chief metropolitan magistrate.
Communal clashes had broken out in northeast Delhi in February 2020, after violence between the Citizenship (Amendment) Act supporters and its protesters spiralled out of control leaving at least 53 people dead and over 700 injured.