2020 Delhi riots: Court frames charges of rioting, arson against 49 accused

A court here has framed charges under various penal offences, including rioting and arson, against 49 accused in a case of the 2020 northeast Delhi riots, setting the stage for their trial.

The court, however, discharged all accused of the charge of criminal conspiracy, saying, the element of prior agreement among the accused and others could not be inferred. It also discharged an accused of all charges, observing there was no concrete evidence about his presence in the riotous mob.

Additional Sessions Judge Pulastya Pramachala was hearing a case against 51 accused. One of them named Suleman Siddiqui is yet to be arrested.

According to the prosecution, the accused were part of a mob that trespassed, vandalised and torched a car showroom on the main Wazirabad road on February 24, 2020.

“I find that a prima facie case is made out for offences punishable under IPC sections 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with a deadly weapon), 427 (punishment for committing mischief and thereby causing loss or damage to the amount of Rs 50 or upwards), 435 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to cause damage to the amount of Rs 100 or upwards) and 436 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy house, etc.)…,” the judge said in an order passed on Monday.

The judge said the accused will also face trial for the offences under IPC sections 450 (house trespass in order to commit any offence punishable with imprisonment for life), 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) and 149 (unlawful assembly).

“Since there is no concrete evidence of identification of accused Mohammed Aftab in the mob behind the incident probed in this case, therefore, he is discharged,” he said.

Underlining that the credibility of witnesses cannot be looked at during the stage of framing charges, ASJ Pramachala rejected the argument of the defence counsel that the prosecution had produced only “stock witnesses”.

A stock witness is an incompetent witness, providing unreliable testimony on directions of the prosecution.

Regarding the claim of “inordinate delay” in registering an FIR on March 5, 2020, the court said the police were dealing with the scenario of riots along with the Covid-19 pandemic.

“There may be any other reason also for the delay in registering FIR, which can be explained at the time of trial. Therefore, the argument of the defence regarding a delay in the registration of FIR is not sufficient to discharge the accused persons,” the court said.

It said the plea of alibi taken by some accused, has to be proved and the same cannot be accepted at the present stage.

The court said as Call Detail Records (CDRs) were “supplemental evidence,” they cannot be used as a ground for seeking discharge.

“The surrounding and ancillary facts are required to be proved before CDR can be acted upon,” it said.

The court also dismissed the argument of the defence regarding the absence of a specific

role assigned to each accused.

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“The evidence on the record prima facie shows that accused persons were part of unlawful assembly, which was present at the spot and which came into action with a common object to go on a rampage, damage the properties and in pursuance to that common object, they set fire in the showroom,” the court said.

Noting the evidence before it, the judge said the crowd was initially being addressed by different speakers during the protest against CAA/NRC, and subsequently it became violent and engaged in rioting and arson.

“From these circumstances, the element of prior agreement among the accused persons and others, cannot be inferred. Therefore, I do not find a case being made out for the existence of a criminal conspiracy,” the judge said.

An FIR was registered against the accused at Dayalpur police station.

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