Over a Hundred of Acquittals After Four Years of Delhi Riots — Why Delhi Police Cases Falling Like Pack of Cards

Defence lawyers claimed that the emphasis was on “proving a narrative” and that arrests were conducted in a haste.
On February 23, 2020, rioting in northeast Delhi began to last for two days. Armed with clubs and firearms, mobs murdered people, set their business establishments and residences on fire and damaged numerous places of worship.
On February 23, 2020, rioting in northeast Delhi began to last for two days. Armed with clubs and firearms, mobs murdered people, set their business establishments and residences on fire and damaged numerous places of worship.

New Delhi: Four years after the deadly communal violence that erupted in northeast Delhi in February 2020, claiming 53 lives, 183 people have so far been acquitted and 75 discharged in over 700 cases — which were filed in connection with the riots. 

Courts noted “inconsistency” in complainant’s versions, “inaccurate” chargesheets, a “dearth of witnesses” and “artificial statements” among other grounds for these acquittals and discharges.

Of the cases analysed by The Mooknayak, 63 were sent to the Delhi Police Crime Branch and one related to “larger conspiracy” referred to the Special Cell — an elite anti-terror wing of the city police.

A total of about 2,600 arrests were made; however, the precise number of accused is unknown because many were simultaneously booked in various other cases.

Out of 694 cases investigated or being investigated by the Northeast District police, an official data suggests chargesheets have been filed in only 368 (53 percent).

As per the data, a total of 757 cases were registered in the district. Of them, 694 cases are still being probed even after four years of the violence. Out of total 2,174 arrests, 1,739 accused are out on bail, while 108 are behind bars. The rest are juveniles.  

Forty-six people have been convicted, while 183 have been acquitted. Courts have discharged a total of 50 people.

The data reveals that 46 people have been found guilty and 50 discharged after four years in the cases with the Northeast District Police. All 183 people acquitted are those who had no accusations against them. 


When there is insufficient evidence to even frame charges, courts in that case discharge the accused. A case can only proceed to trial when charges are framed in the matter. When a court releases an accused person after a trial, it is known as an acquittal.

In a similar vein, only 45 of the 62 cases being probed by the Crime Branch have been worked out. Once the police identify suspects, a case is deemed worked out.

In these 62 cases, 424 people were taken into custody; however, only 39 of them have charges framed against them.

One case with this police wing was canceled in absence of concrete evidence.

Of the total cases it investigated, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Crime Branch has been able to get only one person convicted.

While 346 accused are out on bail, 52 are languishing in jails and 25 have been discharged. 

In the “larger conspiracy” case (FIR No. 59/2020, which was filed by the Crime Branch and taken over by the Special Cell for probe), charges have been framed against all 21 people — including Umar Khalid, a student activist and former research scholar at prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). 

While nine of the accused in the case have been released from prisons on bail, 12, including Khalid, continue to remain in custody for years without trial.

The investigators have filed five chargesheets in the past four years in the case, with defence lawyers alleging 70-80 percent of the material in the supplementary chargesheets is something that the probing agency has been sitting for years.

There is only one case with the Special Cell — wherein charges under stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act are slapped against the accused, making it difficult for them to move out on bail.

The Incident

On February 23, 2020, rioting in northeast Delhi began to last for two days. Armed with clubs and firearms, mobs murdered people, set their business establishments and residences on fire and damaged numerous places of worship. Dayalpur, Khazoori Khas, Jyoti Nagar, Jafrabad, Bhajanpura, Karawal Nagar, Welcome, Gokal Puri and New Usmanpur were among the localities that were worst-hit.

A Saga of ‘Faulty’ Chargesheet, ‘Fabricated’ Evidence

The Delhi Police has been under fire from several courts on multiple occasions for carrying out “callous” investigations, filing “erroneous” chargesheets and “fabricating” evidence. 

A Special Investigating Cell was established in 2021 as a result of harsh court orders for the police with an aim to “expedite” and “streamline” probes.

A Karkardooma court had come down heavily on the Delhi Police in August last year while discharging three in connection with a rioting case. The judge described the investigation as “shoddy” and stated that the chargesheet was filed in a “predetermined” and “mechanical manner” by the investigating team.

Additional Sessions Judge Pulastya Pramachala, while discharging the three persons, went on to observe that the investigating officer (IO) “manipulated” the evidence.

“I have suspicions that the IO manipulated the evidence in the case, without actually investigating the reported incidents properly,” he said.

It was a unique coincidence, he said, that all of the complainants experienced the same shock or trauma as a result of providing false dates and times for the alleged incidents in their complaints. 

“They (the complainants) only became aware of such trauma approximately three years after filing their individual complaints in order to be able to provide an updated version of the events,” he observed.

Similarly, Additional Sessions Judge Amitabh Rawat, who was previously hearing all riots related matters, also discharged six people in a riot case in January 2022. He pointed out that the investigating team’s only evidence to support the accused’s alleged guilt was the “disclosure statements” that were recorded after their arrests.

The disclosure statements made before the police are not considered as admissible evidence as there are chances of it being coerced confessions.

In a case involving stone-pelting in the Chand Bagh area, a local court also dismissed the charges against Umar Khalid and activist Khalid Saifi in December 2022, citing a lack of solid evidence. 

In a riots case in September 2021, a Delhi court dismissed the cases against three individuals, including Shah Alam, the brother of former AAP councillor Tahir Hussain, stating that “the evidence brought on record by the investigating agency in the case miserably falls short for framing charges against the accused”.

“When history will look back at the worst communal riots since partition in Delhi, the failure of the investigating agency to conduct proper investigation by using latest scientific methods, will surely torment the sentinels of democracy,” Additional Sessions Judge Vinod Yadav had observed.

‘Instead of Fair Probe, Emphasis Was on Establishing Narrative’

A few of defence councils The Mooknayak spoke to alleged that the investigation was subpar because of the hurried nature of the arrests and the focus on supporting a preconceived notion of a wider plot.

Senior Supreme Court Advocate Rebecca Mammen John alleged that the investigating agency named “random people” and “fabricated” evidence in a haste to show that a large number of people were involved in the riots.

“They (the investigators) named individuals merely because they (the accused) lived in a specific location without any evidence of their involvement in violent crimes,” she said.

“There was no scientific investigation,” she continued, adding that reliance was placed on conspiracy theories, such as the idea that Left-liberals created the disturbance. 

“Consequently, the police could not apprehend the real offenders purposely or otherwise. The emphasis was on proving a narrative and getting prominent activists and individuals into the net,” she said.

Advocate Mehmoud Pracha, who is defending a good number of accused in different courts of the national capital, said that it was an attempt to “suppress” the global publicity that the CAA-NRC protest had garnered.

“Many Muslims were wrongly accused by dishonest police personnel. But the storyline collapses when it faces judicial scrutiny, with such harsh judicial pronouncements against false implications and fabrication of evidence,” he said.

Editor's note- This is part one of our three-part series on the fourth anniversary of the 2020 Delhi riots.

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