Saturday, September 17, 2011

Securing Punjab and Haryana High Court (and Other HCs): The Why and the How

Its a Monday and the clock has just struck 1 PM and the rush of litigants and lawyers as is there during the morning, at the Punjab and Haryana High Court has visibly thinned. The high profile proceedings relating to a dreaded criminal, which are supposed to happen in the High Court, are about a week away.
Most people present in courts are having their lunch, at different places in accordance with their respective roles. Most lawyers are having it in the Bar Room, the newly opened canteen called Swiss Pie or Open area next to the Bar Library. Most litigants are having it in the canteen area between Gate 2 and 3. A group of young men, dressed in a lawyer's clothing: black coat, stripped trousers, white band and gown swiftly enter the HC building from Gate No. 2, 3 and 4, side stepping the lazing policemen and the metal detectors. The policemen don't check any one of them, as lawyers usually protest to manual frisking. Most of the clothing these men are wearing was in fact, purchased earlier from shops in and around the High Court building. 
These men go to different parts of the High Court building.  One goes sits in the New Bar Area, where hundreds of lawyers are enjoying their lunch and gossip sessions and places the bundle of files he is carrying under one of the many tables. The bundle conceals a powerful IED device, with nails, metal and glass pieces for added effect. The rest, carrying similar packets, go to several court rooms, out of the total fifty of them and add their heap of files, containing a similar IED device to the already exiting heap of countless other files. Others go to the area next to the Bar Library, and collect some more carefully concealed packets from their friends across the porous iron railings surrounding the Bar Library area and place them their, close to the LPG cyclinders and in some of the Bar Rooms which are currently empty. 
These men, leave the court premises as swiftly as they came and disperse in different directions. When the court proceedings reconvene at about 2 PM, and while several lawyers and litigants are present in plenty in both the court rooms and the canteens, the bombs are detonated through a timer. Hundreds or more, including sitting judges, litigants, senior officers, and lawyers are killed or injured.    
Punjab and Haryana High Court, Chandigarh
This is just an illustration of what could possibly happen if a few decide commit acts of terror at the Punjab and Haryana High Court, for whatever reason. The recent attack on Delhi High Court has shorn the mask of security preparedness that India's supposedly most secure High Court had. The case of Punjab and Haryana High Court (PHHC) situated in the city of Chandigarh is even worse, as despite the thousands of lawyers and litigants who come to PHHC, the adequate security systems are not in place to ensure that an incident like one that happened in Delhi HC (or something worse as the illustration mentioned above) doesn't happen again.

I will be discussing the need to secure the High Court premises and the several ways by which, a terrorist organization, or even a person can wreak havoc.

The possible scenarios that could happen, in case the security of the High Court is not beefed up at the earliest are many and really frightening. Once a person, with the intention of even killing a high ranking functionary such as a Judge of the High decides to do so, there are many, not so tough ways to execute his plan. Its quite shocking that a Judge of the High Court, who lives in a highly secure area, travels with a personal security officer (PSO) and is guarded in his walk from his car to his chamber by CRPF personnel is left almost unguarded in the place where his is supposed to spend most of his working hours: the Court room itself! 

Once an assassin enters the Court room premises, possibly dressed as an advocate, a clerk or an ordinary litigant (though entering as an Advocate is his best bet), there is almost nothing that can stop him from attacking a judge, in the court room itself. There are no security personnel outside any of the Court Rooms, especially the ones in later built annexe of the PHHC, where three four fifth of the fifty odd courts rooms are situated. Some court rooms have a guard stationed inside, but most of them seem too relaxed and unprepared for a sudden attack. Hence, a quick shower of bullets from a silenced automatic weapon, at an appropriate time, or a quickly lobbed grenade can take out the high profile target with ease. The panic which ensues will allow the assassin to mingle with a crowd of advocates and litigants and escape.

There are situations such as a hostage hold up in a court room (with certain court rooms especially susceptible, given that they have no windows) among the several others sinister plans which can be executed with reasonable success. The reason why we need to take urgent measures is that an attack on a Constitutional Court such as a High Court can create a lot of fear in the minds of the people. 

 Thus, there are several steps which the High Court Administration and the Government can immediately take. Some of them have already been this piece here by Animesh Sharma, Advocate of the PHHC, where he stated that:
"....The Punjab and Haryana High Court for example, seldom imposes seriously through the day, the rule that requires that litigants and non-lawyers enter the premises only with a pass. Once the morning rush is over, it is not hard for anyone to get in without a pass. As far as lawyers go, there is no system of identity cards and anyone wearing a black court and a band can pass through the gates completely unchecked, carrying whatever they want. Clerks and High Court staff are required to carry identity cards, which are never really checked. There is no X-ray machine used at any of the gates. A huge amount of money was spent on the purchase of high-security gear, which has been lying uninstalled for at least six months. Cameras have been installed recently in parts of the court, but the general consensus is that they are not yet operational. At the moment, there is extensive construction going on in various parts of the High Court, with workers free to walk in and out, leaving even more areas unexposed. Further, there is seldom any security inside a courtroom. The parking lot for lawyers requires a Bar Association sticker. Most lawyers do not have it, but no one can stop them from coming inside. Sitting ducks we are, no doubt. This is the security situation in the High Court and the lower courts lack even these basic security requirements....."

Apart from fixing the abovestated glitches I have the following suggestions :

  1. Ensure that there are multiple layers of security checks (which are strictly enforced) before one can reach the Court Room. This would mean security frisking, both manual and automatic in the High Court galleries, positioning of trained personnel outside and inside each court room. Thus, each person, including advocates irrespective of their seniority and position should be frisked before they enter a court room and each file or folder they take in should be checked.
  2. Sealing of various exits and entry points of the High Court building, such as the iron railings around the Bar Library area which can potentially allow explosives or weapons to enter the Court premises.
  3. The canteen facilities should be moved away from the court premises and entry to this area too much be secured. 
  4. The supply of eatables to lawyers should be done separate food service provider so that there are no frequent entry of goods from outside. 
  5. Car and scooter parking should be moved to a place outside the PHHC perimeter, by building additional capacity for vehicles, over and around the newly constructed parking area. The vehicles right next to the High court building are a potential location to launch an attack from.
  6. Install jammers and other equipment to prevent detonation of explosives (balancing their use with their possible effects on mobile phones, if any).
  7. Only allow those litigants into the specific court room, where his/her cases are supposed to come up sometime soon, as is done in the Supreme Court of India. Thus, they should not allow let them treat a court room as a waiting area, and instead a separate waiting area, with a properly functioning display board. Limit the number of litigants who are to be given passes and allowed inside a court room per case to two, and allow more persons only for special reasons.
  8. Devise a comprehensive Court Security Plan, if one is not already in place, as is done in several countries, especially in the United States (such as the one here). This court security plan could possibly contain the following: 
    A physical security plan that addresses landscaping, parking, interior and exterior lighting, interior and exterior doors, intrusion and detection alarms, windows, fire detection and protection, and auxiliary power.
    Routine security operations.
    Special operations plans that address high-profile trials, emphasizing security and emergency responses.
    Emergency procedures that address evacuation, medical emergencies, bombs and bomb threats, hostage situations, escapes, assaults, utility failures, fire, natural disasters, chemical or biological threats, civil disturbances, and the use of universal precautions.
    A response plan developed in conjunction with emergency first responders.
    Lock-down plans that address situations where safety requires all doors to be locked and all public and staff to remain in place (e.g., hostage and weapon incidents).
    Essential services contingency plans that address the need for a backup system to coordinate and run essential court services if a court facility is damaged or otherwise unsuitable for use. This plan should also include providing local law enforcement with addresses and telephone numbers for judges and the court administrator.
    • Protocol for providing building and floor plans to emergency responders for use in training for and in emergencies.
    • Incident reporting procedures.
    Mail-handling procedures.
    • A high risk trial plan
Sourced from here.

These are few of the things that need to be done to make the PHHC, and other similarly placed courts safer. I hope some urgent steps will be taken in this regard. We must ensure atleast as much protection and security to the Courts which house the interpreters and upholders of the Constitution, i.e the Judges, as we provide to the legislative Assemblies or the Parliament for the MLAs and MPs.

Further suggestions to improve the PHHC's security are welcome as comments.

1 comment:

  1. Chennai is worse. atleast till recently. i just didnt want to be giving ideas.