It was a time span of just 15-20 minutes that proved to be a hot potato for the then Congress government in Punjab on January 5, 2022. As photos of a desolate flyover and worried security officials guarding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cavalcade went viral, what followed was not just demand for an explanation from the Charanjit Singh Channi Sarkar but a political war of words between the BJP and Congress and the issue reaching the doors of the Supreme Court.
Over six months since the incident, the top court is all set to pass an order in the matter on Thursday. In January, the Supreme Court appointed a committee, headed by former Supreme Court Judge Justice Indu Malhotra, to probe if there was any criminal conspiracy in the incident and also probe the role of Punjab Police officers. The top court had also directed the Registrar General of the Punjab and the Haryana High Court to provide the committee with all the seized documents pertaining to the security arrangements made by the Punjab government for the PM’s January 5 visit.
News18 takes a look at the breach, the PM’s security protocol and who’s responsible for lapses:
What exactly happened on January 5?
Explaining the chronology, the Ministry of Home Affairs, in a statement, said the prime minister landed at Bathinda airport on the morning of January 5 from where he was to go to the National Martyrs Memorial at Hussainiwala by helicopter.
However, due to rain and poor visibility, PM Modi “waited for about 20 minutes for the weather to clear out. When the weather did not improve, it was decided that he would visit the National Martyrs Memorial via road, which would take more than two hours”, it said.
The MHA added that the prime minister “proceeded to travel by road after necessary confirmation of necessary security arrangements” by the Punjab DGP.
But when the PM’s convoy reached a flyover, around 30 kilometres before the National Martyrs Memorial, the road was allegedly blocked by some protesters. “The Prime Minister was stuck on the flyover for 15-20 minutes. This was a major lapse in the security of the Prime Minister,” the ministry said.
It added: “The Prime Minister’s schedule and travel plan was communicated well in advance to the Punjab Government. As per procedure, they have to make necessary arrangements for logistics, security as well as keep a contingency plan ready. Also in view of the contingency plan, the Punjab Government has to deploy additional security to secure any movement by road, which were clearly not deployed. After this security lapse, it was decided to head back to Bathinda Airport.”
What defence did the Punjab government offer?
Then chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi said there was “no threat” to the life of the Prime Minister. He also claimed that the Punjab DGP had advised the Centre to defer the PM’s scheduled rally given the inclement weather and the agitation by farmers.
Though he regretted the incident, Channi blamed it on what he called a last-minute change in the PM’s travel plans. He told the press that the Prime Minister’s Office had been informed beforehand about the protest on the route and suggested that Modi could have used a helicopter instead.
“The Prime Minister was not attacked… Please do not spoil relations… Farmers have been agitating for over a year. I am not going to order a lathicharge or firing on my people… If there was any security lapse, we will inquire,” he said.
“When farmers sat (on a protest) in Delhi for a year, was there any threat to the PM or the CM or anyone? We had cleared the roads last night. But they came back,” he said.
BJP strikes back
Union Minister Smriti Irani, addressing a press conference at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi, said: “We know the Congress hates Modi. But today, they tried to harm the Prime Minister of India. Such is the breakdown of law and order of Punjab that the DGP claims he is incapable of providing security support to the PMO and the Prime Minister’s security detail. Such is the state of administration in Punjab that a security run, a protocol that is to be followed by the state, was dismantled so that the Prime Minister could be brought to harm.”
Her colleague Gajendra Singh Shekhawat said: “The Congress government of Punjab conspired to stop the Prime Minister on the road. Deliberately hurting the dignity of the Prime Minister, insulting the most important post of the nation. This is an insult to the country. The federal structure of the country is disregarded. Internal security is compromised.”
Matter reaches Supreme Court
In January, the Supreme Court appointed a committee, headed by former Supreme Court Judge Justice Indu Malhotra, to probe if there was any criminal conspiracy in the incident and also probe the role of Punjab Police officers.
The Supreme Court had then said “…these questions can’t be left to one-sided inquiries. A judicially trained independent mind duly assisted with officers well acquired with security issues & Registrar general of HC who seized records would be best placed, to submit a comprehensive report.”
Who is responsible for the PM’s safety?
The Special Protection Group (SPG) is responsible for the safety and security of the Prime Minister. After the amendment to the SPG Act, the PM is the only protectee of the agency. The elite commando force is responsible for providing proximate security to the Prime Minister. This means that the immediate cordon around the PM is that of SPG personnel.
The ASL or the Advanced Security Liaison is also carried out by the SPG. What this means is that every minute of the Prime Minister’s itinerary is documented and monitored by the central agency officials. During the PM’s visit to a state, the local police maintains this minute-to-minute programme but is supervised by SPG officials. ASL also entails sanitisation of the venue and the route that the PM takes. Anti-sabotage checks, frisking of people who would come close to the PM are all mandated to be carried out by the Special Protection Group.
So, what is the state’s role?
Even though the proximate security is the SPG’s responsibility, the perimeter is to be secured by the state police in case the PM travels.
Keeping the road route safe for the PM’s travel is the responsibility of the state police. “The decision on route is taken by the state police in consultation with the SPG. Usually, a skeletal force is deployed on the contingency routes. Sometimes an emergency situation might arise forcing a last-minute decision, otherwise route, deployment, etc, are all pre-decided by the state and shared with the SPG,” a top cop told News18 on condition of anonymity.
Was this the first time a PM’s security was breached?
In 2006, the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s security was breached in Trivandrum as his pilot vehicle led him to a byway of the city instead of leading him to the Raj Bhawan.