The Tripura High Court after hearing a group of petitions in connection with an incident on the night of 26th April 2021 in which the District Magistrate of West Tripura allegedly stormed in and raided marriage functions on the pretext that happening in violation of Covid-19 lockdown guidelines.
The video of the incident has been widely circulated on the internet and is the basis of one of the petitions which are modelled as a Public Interest Litigation. Other petitions were also filed, one by the priest who was to perform the marriage ceremony and the other by the father of the bride.
The matter was heard by a bench comprising of Justices Akil Kureshi and S.G. Chattopadhyay.
In an earlier hearing of the matter the court had called for additional documents and material and an enquiry into the incident. The court during that hearing also requested the state to transfer the District Magistrate out of the district to ensure a fair enquiry.
Replying to the request of the court the Advocate General submitted that the District Magistrate is on leave with permission to go out of the district and that this will be sufficient to satisfy the purpose of the request. But the court was unsatisfied by the stopgap arrangement and ordered the state to transfer the officer out of the District.
The Advocate General also submitted before the court the copies of all the cases filed in the incident and reports on their progress. It was argued that even though the reports show a prima facie case under Section 323 (Punishment for voluntarily causing hurt) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, the offence being non-cognizable the matter was referred to a Magistrate without any coercive actions. It was also argued that under Section 73 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 no action can be taken against any authority in respect of any work done in good faith by such authority under the provisions of the said Act or the rules or the regulations made thereunder.
But the counsel for the petitioners countered these arguments by arguing that the District Magistrate was not acting in good faith and thus not eligible for the exception under Section 73 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
The court while hearing the matter observed that a serious issue involved in the matter was that under the instructions of the District Magistrate large number of family members and guests, including women and children, attending the marriage function were detained at the police station for a considerable period. But it was submitted before the court by the defendants that no arrests or detention was done during the incident and that people were taken to the police station to arrange a safe passage for them during the night curfew.
On this point, the court expressed its dissatisfaction as:
“We are unable to appreciate why if the administration was desirous of providing a safe passage to the citizens, the same could not have been done from the marriage hall or the outside precincts thereof and what was the need for bringing the entire marriage party including women and children to the police station. We will inquire into this allegation minutely.”
The petitioners also alleged that the function was organised with necessary permissions and that the District Magistrate misbehaved and ill-treated the marriage party causing a terrifying situation.
Considering the serious nature of the allegations the court ordered that the inquiry committee should include a retired District Judge and appointed former District Judge Subhash Sikdar for the post.
The court also observed that the order should not demoralise those enforcing rules and regulations at a time when the state is suffering under the fast spread of the pandemic.