|Soldiers announce relaxation in curfew hours in Muzaffarnagar on Thursday. (PTI)
New Delhi, Sept. 12: The Supreme Court today directed the Centre and the Uttar Pradesh government to co-ordinate rehab and relief efforts in violence-hit Muzaffarnagar, brushing aside the state’s plea that it could handle the situation on its own.
The three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice P. Sathasivam, also asked both to respond to a plea for central intervention by invoking Article 355, apart from a CBI probe into the clashes that have claimed dozens of lives.
The public interest petition filed by five minority community members said over 200 people have died, contrary to the government’s claim that 31 had been killed. The PIL also sought deployment of central paramilitary forces, saying the violence had the potential to spread beyond the state’s borders.
Latest reports put the toll at nearly 40.
Constitutional expert Rajeev Dhawan, who appeared for the Akhilesh Yadav government, said there was no need for the Centre to get involved as the situation was under control.
Dhawan said any plea for invoking Article 355 — which says it is the Union’s “duty” to protect states against external aggression and internal disturbance — shouldn’t be entertained as such requests were invariably followed by demands for invoking Article 356.
Article 356 deals with imposition of President’s rule.
But the bench, which also included Justices Ranjana Prakash Desai and Ranjan Gogoi, wasn’t impressed. It directed the Centre and the state government to take co-ordinated steps for providing relief and rehabilitating affected persons and fixed the next hearing on September 16.
“We feel this court has to go into the issue. We can’t dismiss the petition in limine (admission stage),” Justice Sathasivam said.
The bench also sought a compliance report by Monday, the next date of hearing.
Earlier, senior counsel Gopal Subramanium, who appeared on behalf of the petitioners, and the Supreme Court Bar Association requested the bench to direct the Centre to invoke Article 355 as the state government, they said, had failed to discharge its duty.
The petition, filed by one Mohd Haroon and the four others, claimed that over 200 people had died in the violence. “The petitioner from his own observations and from reliable accounts of persons belonging to the area … has learnt that since 27th August, 2013, more then 200 Muslims have been brutally killed and around 500 (are) still missing… in almost 50 villages,” it said.
The PIL said the house of one of the petitioners was among those “set ablaze”.
It said the local administration, in order to “cover up the real extent and seriousness” of its failures, ensured that many of the dead were disposed of without FIRs being lodged and autopsies being conducted.
“The constitutional authorities both at the Centre and the state and the state law and order machinery have failed to perform their constitutional duty to provide adequate security to life and property of persons belonging to the minority community and citizens per se and in order to cover up their gross negligence, failure and even complicity, have resorted to grossly under-report the number of casualties,” the petition said.
The PIL said there was a total lack of preparation and will to control the violence, both at the level of the Centre and the state.
According to the PIL, some 20,000 people were without food and shelter in many villages.
The petition sought appropriate directives to ensure that the family of each of the dead got Rs 25 lakh as compensation and the injured Rs 5 lakh each from the Prime Minister’s relief fund.