PM security breach: 6 months on, no action against former Punjab chief secretary, ex-DGP - Hindustan Times
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PM security breach: 6 months on, no action against former Punjab chief secretary, ex-DGP

Mar 07, 2023 12:46 PM IST

Supreme Court-appointed inquiry committee cites ‘colossal failure in planning and coordination’; report sent by Centre to AAP govt in September, but CM Bhagwant Mann is yet to act

The report of the Supreme Court-appointed inquiry committee looking into the breach in security during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Punjab visit on January 5, 2022, that was submitted six months ago indicts then state chief secretary Anirudh Tewari and police chief S Chattopadhyaya for lapses.

The convoy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was stuck for nearly 30 minutes on a flyover when he was travelling by road from Bathinda airport to Ferozepur on January 5, 2022. (PTI file photo)
The convoy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was stuck for nearly 30 minutes on a flyover when he was travelling by road from Bathinda airport to Ferozepur on January 5, 2022. (PTI file photo)

Until now, the only finding of the report in the public domain was that it held senior superintendent of police Harmandeep Singh Hans responsible for the lapse.

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HT has reviewed a copy of the report and, apart from Hans, it indicts the then Punjab civil administration heads and top police brass for the breaching the PM’s security.

Besides Hans, Tewari and Chattopadhyaya, the Justice Indu Malhotra (retd)-led five-member committee has indicted additional director generals of police (ADGP) G Nageswara Rao and Naresh Arora, inspector generals (IG) Rakesh Aggarwal and Inderbir Singh, then deputy inspector general (DIG) Surjeet Singh (now retired), and senior superintendent of police (SSP) Charanjit Singh.

The report was submitted to the apex court and to the Union government on August 25 last year. In September, the latter forwarded it to the Aam Aadmi Party-led state government, which is yet to act on it.

The Supreme Court ordered the inquiry after the convoy of Prime Minister Modi was stranded for half-an-hour on a flyover when he was travelling by road from Bathinda airport to Ferozepur on January 5, 2022.

A belligerent crowd of about 300 protesters gathered at the end of the flyover, prompting the Special Protection Group that protects the PM to halt the convoy and head back to the airport. Before returning to Delhi, PM Modi told Punjab officials, “Apne CM ko thanks kehna, ki mein Bathinda airport tak zinda laut paaya (Thank your CM on my behalf that I could return alive to Bathinda airport).”

A Congress government headed by Charanjeet Singh Channi was in charge of the state then.

On January 12, 2022, the Supreme Court appointed its former judge Indu Malhotra to chair the five-member special committee to probe the security lapses. “The report was received in September, but no action has been taken. The file is in the CMO (chief minister’s office). The home and personnel departments are with chief minister Bhagwant Mann. We are awaiting his nod to act,” said a top-ranked official familiar with the matter, requesting anonymity.

The panel, which does not specify the action to be taken against the indicted officials, found that Faridkot SSP Varun Sharma and AIG (Intelligence) Jaspreet Singh acted according to the Blue Book that details the security to be accorded to the PM. The inquiry found both officials “fully efficient”. The report also absolved the PM’s Special Protection Group (SPG) of any laxity.

However, it indicted the Punjab Police brass for its casual and negligent attitude, and referred to the incident as “a colossal failure in planning and coordination”.

The report indicts then chief secretary Tewari for not deputing any officer to travel with the PM’s convoy. In his testimony, Tewari said Husan Lal, the then principal secretary to the CM, was to join the PM’s convoy as the nominee of the chief secretary, but that he tested Covid-positive so didn’t accompany Modi.

“The chief secretary could have easily deputed a senior officer from the civil administration to accompany the carcade at Bathinda since it was known on January 4 itself that the PS to the CM would not be travelling with the entourage. Divisional commissioner RK Kaushik was at Bathinda airport and could have been deputed to accompany the carcade, particularly since no operational duty had been assigned to him,” the report added.

It said that the chief secretary convened a meeting on December 29, 2021, but did not follow up after that to ensure that all agencies concerned were working in coordination and implementing decisions taken in the first meeting.

Post such visits, the Blue Book requires a coordination meeting to be convened by the chief secretary to assess the adequacy of the arrangements made and suggest improvement for future visits. This was also not done.

The Justice Malhotra panel indicted then DGP Chattopadhyaya, who cleared the route. “The entire attitude of the DGP was one of indifference and dereliction of duty” the report said. “From records, it appears the DGP didn’t take any steps to brief field officers, hold coordination meetings, or ensure that the arrangement is in order. He didn’t concern himself with the planning of contingency routes at all, even though the Blue Book requires the DGP to be actively involved in the formation of route plans. The failure on the part of the DGP to appoint a nominee to accompany the carcade from Bathinda to Ferozepur is reflective of his complete indifference and apathy to the visit of the PM,” it added.

RR Bhagat, the IG, SPG, shared inputs of disturbance by farmer groups protesting en route to the rally, but the DGP didn’t act in time, the committee found. Instead, he gave the nod for the PM’s travel by road. “Despite intelligence inputs of movement of farmers, the DGP took no measures to ensure that adequate arrangements had been made for the safety and security of the PM. It was a matter of serious concern that despite having received such information, it was not shared with the SPG nor were any steps taken to enhance the security along the Ferozepur-Moga road by deploying forces on the approach road around the venue,” said the report.

Worse, the DGP tried to cover up the lapses by passing the buck to other officials, it added.

REPORT INDICTS TOP BRASS

Naresh Arora, ADGP (law and order)

The security plan sent to the office of the ADGP (law and order) ought to have been vetted independently by his office.

He should also have been concerned with the adequacy of the security arrangement since the office of ADGP (law and order) was providing manpower and equipment on demand, and was responsible for the initial development as early as December 31, 2021. Arora should have ensured that an all-encompassing, comprehensive security plan was issued, reflecting duties he envisaged for officers, through his office order. “The lack of coherence under various orders of the ADGP (law and order) laid the foundation for the lapse in security on January 5, 2022,” the report said.

G Nageswara Rao, ADGP (cyber crime)

Rao was nominated by the DGP as overall in-charge of security arrangements in connection with the PM’s visit. However, he didn’t attend the 2nd advance security liaison (ASL) meeting at Bathinda on January 2, 2022. He said that he was not a part of arrangements made in Bathinda and was also not aware of the security arrangements along the contingency route in this segment. He confined his role to the Ferozepur rally. “In our view, Rao was responsible for overseeing the entire security arrangements for the visit, which would also include the arrangements on the contingency route,” read the report.

Rakesh Aggarwal, IG (counter intelligence)

Despite being a senior officer, he revealed a lack of familiarity with instructions in the Blue Book. His failure to discharge his responsibility as the nodal officer cum advance security liasioning officer (ASLO), was a major communication gap between central and state agencies, the report said, adding that he did not pass the required intelligence inputs to officers concerned.

Surjeet Singh, DIG, Faridkot (now retd)

The panel indicted Surjeet Singh for his failure to perform the role assigned by ADGP Rao. In his testimony, Surjeet Singh admitted that he was part of a WhatsApp group, PM rally Ferozepur. He however, claimed that he didn’t receive messages on the group regarding the congregation of farmers at the Feroze Shah Grain Market, breaking of barricades, or about the protesters coming on the road. His explanation is difficult to accept. He failed to supervise the deployment made under SSP Charanjit Singh, who in turn failed to stop the movement of the protesters right up to the flyover.

Charanjit Singh, Moga SSP

The police deployment under him was not effective in stopping the protesters from reaching the flyover. The protesters gathered near the grain market, broke barricades, disrupted traffic on the VVIP carriageway reserved for rally-bound traffic and moved 6-7 kilometres towards the flyover while crossing the Feroze Shah toll plaza where police deployment had been made. From records, it seems there was poor coordination between the SSPs of Moga and Ferozepur. While Charanjit mobilised forces under his command from the other parts of the district, he was unable to prevent the blockade.

Inderbir Singh, DIG, Ferozepur

Despite ADGP Rao’s instructions that he (DIG) be present on the route and ensure security arrangements, Inderbir Singh remained at the rally venue. Both DIG Inderbir and Ferozepur SSP Harmandeep Hans were responsible for maintaining law and order in Ferozepur yet neither made any plan for a contingency route for the PM’s visit to the border district. The DIG had adequate reserves under his command. There were 14 anti-riot police (ARP) teams under him. However, both the DIG and the SSP failed to despatch these teams to vantage points on the contingency route. The DIG didn’t respond to intelligence inputs from the state CID on the build-up on the PM’s route at 10.15am. He failed to strengthen the route, leading to the security breach.

Harmandeep Hans, Ferozepur SSP

Apart from failing to maintain law and order, the serious default on the part of SSP Harmandeep Hans was to lead the PM’s carcade straight into the blockade, where a hostile crowd of 300 protesters had gathered. The Ferozepur SSP was piloting the carcade at 12.25pm. By this time, the crowd had become belligerent and broken through barricades. The SSP was aware yet he chose not to inform the carcade commander even though he was in direct communication with him. There was sufficient time of two hours from 10.20am when Rao informed Hans that the PM would be taking the contingency route and it should be adequately strengthened. Despite clear instructions, at least two hours before the PM entered Ferozepur district, the SSP failed to act on the ADGP’s instruction.

“It was only after the carcade got stranded and on enquiries made by the chief security and liasioning officer (CSLO) that the SSP disclosed for the first time that there was a blockade ahead. According to the first incident report by the CSLO to the cabinet secretariat, the blockade sight was barely 100 metres away,” the report said.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Vishal Rambani is an assistant editor covering Punjab. A journalist with over a decade of experience, he writes on politics, crime, power sector, environment and socio-economic issues. He has several investigative stories to his credit.

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