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SIT to comprise of a retired High Court Judge and two police officers – one former and one serving, names to be decided by SC on January 11

Nearly 34 years after over 3000 people, mostly Sikhs, were killed in the communal pogrom that engulfed Delhi and other parts of the country following the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984, the Supreme Court on Wednesday (January 10) ordered a fresh probe in 186 cases linked to the massacre.

A Bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud decided to set up a new Special Investigation Team (SIT) – to be monitored by the Supreme Court – headed by a former High Court judge to independently probe 186 cases related to the anti-Sikh riots that broke out in Delhi. These cases were not investigated by a SIT that had earlier been constituted by the central government to investigate the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

While details of who will be part of this newly-ordered SIT are yet to be finalised, the Bench said that the probe team will also comprise two senior police officers, one serving and the other retired (not below or who is equivalent to the rank of an inspector general).

The names of the members of this proposed SIT are expected to be finalised on January 11 when the Supreme Court hears the matter next. On the Centre’s insistence, the Bench has agreed to consider names suggested by Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand (on behalf of the government) and senior advocate HS Phoolka (on behalf of the riot victims), for being nominated to the SIT.

While observers may wonder about the rationale behind or the effectiveness of constituting an SIT to investigate the cases after nearly 34 years of the killings, the Supreme Court has held: “Regard being had to the nature of the cases, we think it appropriate that a fresh SIT be constituted for carrying on further investigation.”

The Chief Justice brushed aside reservations expressed by the parties in the case over the maintainability of such an SIT – on an earlier occasion a similar probe had been quashed following objections being raised over alleged judicial overreach in carrying out investigations – saying: “That is history.”

On December 11 last year the Supreme Court had received the confidential report filed by an apex court-appointed supervisory committee of two former SC judges, Justices KS Radhakrishnan and JM Panchal. The two-member committee had looked into 241 cases linked with the anti-Sikh riots which had been closed by the Centre-appointed SIT. The supervisory committee had reportedly recommended that 186 of these 241 cases needed to be re-examined and it is these cases that the newly-proposed SIT will now look into afresh.

A total of 3,325 people were killed in the 1984 riots. Of these, as many as 2733 deaths were reported from the national capital alone while Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and other states accounted for the rest.

In February 2015, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led NDA government had set up a SIT, following a recommendation by the Union home ministry-appointed Justice (retd.) GP Mathur committee, which had suggested a centre-monitored probe in several of the anti-Sikh riots cases. The Centre’s SIT was headed by senior IPS officer Pramod Asthanaand comprised of retired district and sessions judge Rakesh Kapoor and then additional deputy commissioner in the Delhi police Kumar Gyanesh as its members.

The SIT had, among other cases, also looked into the high-profile complaints filed against Congress veterans Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler. It had questioned Sajjan Kumar – a former MP – on three occasions on allegations that he had personally participated in the riots and instigated a mob in Delhi’s Janakpuri area on November 1, 1984. The case against Sajjan Kumar, still awaiting judicial closure, was connected to the killing of two Sikhs — Sohan Singh and his son-in-law Avtar Singh – during the riots.

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