The Delhi High Court on Friday rapped the Delhi Police for the delay in recording the statements of the students suspected to be behind the disappearance of JNU student Najeeb Ahmad, missing for over six months.
“It is seen that police works only if some strings are pulled or calls are made or some petition is filed. It is a fundamental problem with the force which needs to be addressed,” a bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Deepa Sharma said.
The bench said this was not the only case where there has been a delay in investigation by the police and added that usually the agency “does not act with promptitude” till “strings are pulled”.
It asked the police why there was an initial delay in the probe, who was responsible for it and what action has been taken against them, saying these are important aspects that “we would like to go into”.
To this, advocate Rahul Mehra, appearing for the Delhi Police, said the initial lapse was that the nine suspected students were not interrogated. This lapse was addressed as soon as the special investigation team (SIT) was set up.
He also said that the nine suspected students should behave as students and cooperate with the probe instead of resorting to “legalities” by engaging lawyers.
Mehra said the nine students should just say no to the lie-detector test if they do not want it, instead of contesting the issue legally and not saying yes or no to the test.
On hearing this, the bench said “if they want to live with the needle of suspicion, though not that strong, that is their choice.”
The court was hearing arguments on the habeas corpus plea filed by Najeeb’s mother Fatima Nafees, who has now moved an application for dismantling the SIT and setting up a court appointed team for investigating the matter.
One of the reasons given by senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for Nafees, for dismantling the SIT was that it did not record the statements of the witnesses, including the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) President who saw the assault on Najeeb.
The JNUSU President had lodged the complaint regarding the disappearance of Najeeb.
Another reason for dismantling the SIT was that it was allegedly being “politically controlled and monitored” as the nine suspected students had political links, Gonsalves said.
While the police claimed to have recorded the statement of the JNUSU President, he opposed it. The court thereafter ordered the agency to record the statements of all “identified witnesses” to the assault and violence of October 14, 2016, if not already done.
The police was also asked to place on record the call detail records and mobile phone data, including location data, of the auto driver who claimed to have picked up Najeeb from JNU on the morning of October 15, 2016 and dropped him off near Jamia University’s gates.
The agency also has to file, before the next date of hearing on May 12, a para-wise reply to the application seeking dismantling of the SIT.
During the hearing, Mehra contended that the police was not opposed to transferring the probe to CBI or a court appointed team as it only wanted to find the missing student who had disappeared on October 15, 2016 from the JNU campus after an altercation with some ABVP students the previous night.
The RSS students’ wing in JNU has denied any involvement in his disappearance.
Mehra also claimed that the entire police force was working to trace the missing student and for this a reward of Rs 10 lakh has been announced, apart from looking into “every nook and corner of the country”.
The lawyer also said that the police was looking at the disappearance from three different angles—abduction, suicide and genuinely missing.
He further said that analysis of call records, as well as location data, of the mobile phones of the nine suspected students from October 14-16, 2016 had revealed nothing except that they were in the JNU campus during the period.
The forensic examination of Najeeb’s mobile and laptop has unearthed some WhatsApp messages with some persons, police said and added that these persons would also be questioned.
Both the call record analysis and the forensic report were placed before the bench in a sealed cover.
On the other side, the lawyers appearing for the missing student’s mother alleged that police investigation was going on the wrong track as it was focused on stigmatising the victim.
Gonsalves contended that the nine suspected students were being protected by the police as well as the Vice Chancellor of JNU. He said that while night time raids were carried out at the residence of the relatives of the missing student, no raids were carried out at the residence of the suspected students.
He also said that since the nine students were not agreeable to a lie-detector test their custodial interrogation was imperative as they had threatened to do away with Najeeb after the altercation with him.
The court, however, said that while threats can lead to initial suspicion, one cannot jump to conclusions based on it.
On Thursday, the Delhi Police had faced ire of the court for its lack of faith in its designated lawyer - Rahul Mehra - as he was not informed about the recent developments in the case.
Mehra on Friday said that he has received communications from the Commissioner of Delhi Police and the issue raised on Thursday before the court has been sorted out.