SC refuses to stay HC order on judicial inquiry into farmer's death

An SC bench said the high court was concerned with the homicidal death and the family of the deceased had expressed some apprehensions

Farmers in Amritsar on their way to join protesting farmers at Shambhu border point, on 30 March (photo: PTI)
Farmers in Amritsar on their way to join protesting farmers at Shambhu border point, on 30 March (photo: PTI)


The Supreme Court on Monday refused to stay a Punjab and Haryana High Court directive setting up a panel to probe 21-year-old farmer Shubhkaran Singh's death during a clash between protesting farmers and Haryana security personnel in February.

The SC said the supervision of the matter by a panel headed by a retired judge would "infuse fairness and transparency".

The apex court was hearing a petition filed by the Haryana government challenging the high court's 7 March order for a committee headed by a former high court judge to inquire into the death of Shubhkaran Singh during the clash.

Shubhkaran, a native of Bathinda, was killed and several police personnel were injured in clashes at Khanauri at the Punjab-Haryana border on 21 February. The incident occurred when a few protesting farmers were trying to head toward the barricades and were stopped by security personnel from crossing the state border and marching to Delhi.

The plea came up for hearing before a bench of justices Surya Kant and K.V. Viswanathan on Monday. Solicitor-general Tushar Mehta, appearing for Haryana, referred to a paragraph from the high court's order and said this would demoralise the police force.

"If the police have to face a PIL for every incident, how will they maintain law and order?" he asked, adding that hundreds of people had gathered at the incident spot with lethal weapons. The bench observed that sometimes, during a public agitation, some miscreants take undue advantage of the situation.

Mehta said 67 police personnel were injured during the incident, and if committees are to be appointed, what will be the morale of those who are maintaining law and order.

The bench said the high court was concerned with the homicidal death and the family members of the deceased had expressed some apprehensions. It said the three-member committee is to be headed by a retired high court judge. "We also appoint former judges to infuse fairness and transparency," the bench observed.

Mehta said the apex court may choose an officer and monitor the investigation in the case. The bench observed that the high court will take up the matter again on 10 April. "Let us see what happens. The matter is pending before the high court," it said.

Mehta said he is not against the committee or its members. He referred to one of the directions of the high court which said the "committee shall also examine the issue whether the force which was used on the dates mentioned above was commensurate with the situation and give its report".

The bench said the committee headed by the former judge would only supervise the matter and it would infuse confidence. "We don't want the Supreme Court to become panacea for all problems," it said, adding that the high court is also a Constitutional court and it will deal with the issue.

"This is not something unusual which has been done," the bench said, adding that this was a case where two police forces of separate states have different stances and the high court has appointed an "umpire".

The apex court said the judiciary will take care of the morale of the police force as well as of the people, and posted the matter for further hearing on 19 April.

The high court had formed the committee headed by retired HC judge Jaishree Thakur to inquire into the various aspects of the case, saying the investigation into the Shubhkaran's death cannot be entrusted solely either to Punjab or to Haryana for "reasons obvious as both states have several things to cover up".

It had said the committee would be assisted by additional director general of police (Punjab) Parmod Ban and ADGP (Haryana) Amitabh Singh Dhillon. The Punjab Police had registered a zero FIR (a procedural tool allowing victims to file complaints at any police station regardless of incident location) in the matter.

The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (Non-Political) and the Kisan Mazdoor Morcha were spearheading the 'Delhi Chalo' march to press the government to accept their demands, including a legal guarantee for minimum support price for crops and a farm loan waiver.

The protesting farmers were staging a sit-in at the Shambhu and Khanauri border points between Punjab and Haryana after their march was stopped by the security forces when the incident occurred.

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