'Truth spoken without moderation reverses itself'
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Thursday, January 29, 2015
Manoj Mitta - When Kiran Bedi was in the dock
The objections raised by the legal fraternity over Kiran Bedi being named as BJP’s Delhi CM candidate apparently belong to a bygone era, when she was in the thick of her chequered police career. But the gravity of the findings given against her 25 years ago by the Justice D P Wadhwa Committee still provides much cause for concern.
The inquiry conducted by Justice Wadhwa, who was then a judge of the Delhi high court before his elevation to the Supreme Court, was into three incidents in which Bedi, as deputy commissioner of police in charge of north Delhi district, had clashed with lawyers in early 1988. The report submitted in February 1990 faulted both sides, in varying degrees and for different reasons.
Wadhwa pulled up lawyers for going on strike after one of them, Rajesh Agnihotri, had been apprehended on January 15, 1988 allegedly in the act of stealing inside the ladies common room of St Stephen’s College. The provocation for the strike was that Agnihotri had been taken to the court handcuffed. On this incident, Wadhwa said while Agnihotri’s arrest was “legal and justified, his handcuffing was illegal”. But he added, “Even if the ire of the lawyers was justified, they could not have gone on an indefinite strike on this issue. At the same time, it was unnecessary and even improper on the part of DCP (North) to go to the press and make misleading statements.”
The second clash took place on January 21, 1988, a day after Bedi had at a press conference called Agnihotri a “thief” despite his judicial discharge. In response, a group of 100 lawyers demanded to meet Bedi in her office which was located in the same Tis Hazari court complex. This led to what Wadhwa described as a “brutal and merciless lathicharge” in which about 30 lawyers and journalists were injured.
Even as he held that the lawyers were “not justified” in going to Bedi’s office “to extract an apology from her and to lodge protest against her press conference”, Wadhwa said that “they certainly could not be said to have constituted an unlawful assembly.” Further, even as he rejected the allegation of lawyers that Bedi herself had come out of her room and shouted “Maro Salon Ko”, Wadhwa said that the lathicharge had been “ordered at the instance of Kiran Bedi… without any lawful excuse.” As a corollary, the judge recommended the withdrawal of the case of rioting that had been booked against lawyers on “false evidence” after 16 of them had been “wrongly arrested” after the lathicharge.
Calling the FIR “a false document”, Wadhwa said: “Lathicharge was the result of personal vendetta which Kiran Bedi was nursing against the lawyers and was without any provocation.” While debunking her version of the clash, Wadhwa pointed out the contradiction between contemporaneous police records and the claims she had subsequently made before the committee.
In her deposition before the committee, “Kiran Bedi said that a group of lawyers which stormed into her office, rushed towards her making violent gestures and uttering obscenities at her and further that these lawyers made physical gestures and gave threats to the effect that they would strip her and throw her down and used unmentionable utterances directed at the female anatomy and actually advanced towards her threatening to carry them out.”
Such alleged acts constitute an offence under S 509 IPC which penalizes anybody who, intending to insult the modesty of a woman, utters any word or makes any sound or gesture in her presence. Yet, the FIR registered by one of her subordinates, sub-inspector Jinder Singh, did not allege that any of the lawyers had entered Bedi’s room, let alone giving details of their alleged sexual crime. Though he recorded the statements of six witnesses on that day, Jinder Singh did not examine Bedi who would be, as the committee put it, “the complainant as to what had happened in her office”.
Asked about these omissions, Bedi said to the committee, “To me Jinder Singh wrote what he saw. Therefore, I thought that he would come back and I will put my case during investigation to him. Also, the incident in my office concerned me individually.”
Justice Wadhwa wrote: “I am quite intrigued by the last line of the reply. Outraging the modesty of a woman, even if that be a lady police officer, concerns the society as a whole. The offence is cognizable and is compoundable only with the permission of the court. Either Kiran Bedi failed in her duty in registering the FIR for an offence under S 509 IPC or she is not telling the truth. I would rather hold that she is not telling the truth and the lawyers never entered her office and uttered obscenities in her office at her.”
As for the third incident probed by the committee, involving a mob attack on the chambers and cars of lawyers in Tis Hazari on February 17, 1988, Wadhwa’s findings are entirely against Bedi and the police. He said that the mob of about 4,000 men had been brought by municipal councillor Rajesh Yadav “in connivance with Kiran Bedi”. Citing errors of omission and commission on the part of the police and the discrepancies in the transcripts of their wireless messages and their testimonies, Wadhwa said that Bedi’s claim to have been unaware that the mob was heading towards Tis Hazari courts and that it was shouting slogans in her favour till she herself reached there “is false; it is a lie”.
Some of the details of the connivance established by the inquiry were that the mob had been organized and transported with the “help” of officials from Samepur Badli and Shalimar Bagh police stations, that “intentionally no steps were taken to stop the mob en route or even at the gates of Tis Hazari courts”, that “the crowd was allowed to indulge in vandalism without any check”, that “even the assembly was not declared as unlawful”, that Bedi sent a report “which was dishonest”. Holding that Bedi and her subordinates had hatched a “conspiracy” with Yadav, Wadhwa said that “object was to take out a demonstration … so that mounting pressure of the lawyers for seeking action against Bedi and her consequent suspension be eased by showing that public opinion was in her favour.”
Her advocate, K T S Tulsi, was quoted as saying that she was “a high profile officer and throughout had a brilliant academic career and outstanding record of service.” Wadhwa brushed him aside saying, “I have nothing to say if the record of service of Kiran Bedi has been exemplary or her academic career excellent. But her role in the three incidents, which I am inquiring into, does not commend to me.”
“She certainly had a great deal of influence on her subordinates. They fell all too easily under her spell and filed affidavits in these proceedings which were not true and they did so in order to bail her out. She, on her part, shifted responsibilities for the illegalities committed by her on her colleagues and subordinates though claiming only moral responsibility. I find this conduct of her deplorable. Because of the popularity which Kiran Bedi was enjoying on account of the good deal of publicity in the newspapers and TV media and the influence which she had with the powers that be, even the senior officers in the police headquarters just caved in and adopted an attitude of see nothing, hear nothing and do nothing, even when it was so obvious that grave illegalities had been committed,” Wadhwa observed.
In an “action taken note” tabled along with the Wadhwa report in Parliament on April 19, 1990, the then home minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, announced that it had been decided “to initiate departmental action against the officials concerned”. Nobody could have imagined then that 25 years later, Sayeed and Bedi, in their respective states, would both be CM candidates. More importantly, in keeping with the general culture of impunity, little is known though of whether the first woman IPS officer in India was ever held to account for the “grave illegalities” she had been indicted for by a judicial inquiry.