The crucial hearing in a 1984 anti-Sikh riots case, in which a convict was recently awarded death sentence, witnessed the heated exchange between two lawyers in the Delhi High Court Wednesday over representing the state.
While Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi said he has been authorised by the Home Ministry, which had constituted the SIT to probe the riot cases, to represent the prosecution, Delhi government's standing counsel Rahul Mehra contended only he has the right to appear for the state in the case before the high court.
A bench of Justices Siddharth Mridul and Sangita Dhingra Sehgal said the job of the Special Investigation Team was to investigate the incident and file the charge sheet and as the trial has concluded, what role is there for SIT now.
The court said the state is the prosecutor and SIT cannot take the place of the state. When the two lawyers were arguing in a high-pitched tone, Justice Mridul told them to stop and not to address each other in the court.
"Stop it. Please don't address each other before us. Don't do this in the court," the bench said.
The court was hearing a reference to confirm the death sentence awarded to convict Yashpal Singh in the 1984 riots case and also his plea challenging his conviction and punishment.
As per the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), the death penalty cannot be executed unless confirmed by the high court.
When Lekhi said SIT was investigating the case and the Delhi government has no authority in this, Mehra shot back: "This is my turf. There should be a notification authorising Lekhi to appear in the matter. Where is the notification?"
Lekhi responded saying the court is not an individual's turf but its everyone's turf.
The bench also asked Lekhi to show the notification engaging him in the matter on which the ASG said he was appearing in the case with instructions to appear.
The court, however, said: "State is the prosecutor. Mehra represents the state and there is nothing today which can prevent him. You (Lekhi) cannot represent the state, only Mehra can do it unless you show the order in this regard. Let Mehra represent the state and you represent your client (SIT). SIT by no stretch can be called state. The state states."
This was not the first time when such heated arguments took place between the two counsel. Earlier, in the Delhi Chief Secretary's assault case, in which Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his deputy Manish Sisodia have challenged a trial court order, the hearing had witnessed a verbal spat between the lawyers appearing for the AAP government and the Delhi Police over representing the police force in the matter.
While AAP-appointed Delhi government standing counsel Mehra had said that only he had the right to appear for police in the case before the high court, ASG Lekhi and Central government standing counsel Anil Soni had contended that they have been authorised by the Deputy Secretary (Home) of Delhi government to represent the state in the matter.
During the hearing in the riots case, the bench listed the matter for further hearing on January 29 after Singh's counsel said the paper book was not ready.
The bench directed the high court registry to expedite the preparation of the paper book and furnish the copies to the counsel for the parties before the next date.
Singh, whose production warrant was issued earlier by the court, was produced before the bench from Tihar Jail. He was taken into custody after his conviction by the trial court on November 14. He was sentenced to death on November 20.
The trial court had also awarded life term to co-convict Naresh Sherawat in the case relating to the killing of two men in New Delhi during the 1984 riots -- the first convictions in the cases reopened by the SIT.
The Delhi Police had closed the case in 1994 for want of evidence, but it was reopened by the SIT. The SIT is investigating nearly 60 cases related to the riots, while it has filed "untraced report" in 52 cases.
The convicts have also been awarded varying jail terms and fines for offences including an attempt to murder, dacoity and attacking victims by dangerous weapons.
The court spared convict Naresh the gallows while taking note of his medical condition and his lawyer's arguments seeking leniency in the quantum of sentence.
Earlier, the court had convicted Singh and Sherawat for killing Hardev Singh and Avtar Singh in Mahipalpur area of South Delhi on November 1, 1984, during the riots that had taken place after the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at her residence by two Sikh bodyguards a day before.
The case was lodged on a complaint by victim Hardev's brother Santokh Singh.
A mob of about 500 persons, led by the two convicts, had encircled the house of the victims and had killed them. It was just one of the incidents out of several others Delhi alone witnessed during the riots that saw around 3,000 people being killed.
(With inputs from agencies.)