Delhi lieutenant-governor (L-G) Anil Baijal and the elected Delhi government led by Arvind Kejriwal are again locked in confrontation -- this time over the appointment of special public prosecutors (SPPs) to argue cases related to the February communal riots in northeast Delhi.

The face-off is so intense that the L-G on Thursday decided to refer the matter to President Ram Nath Kovind, citing persistent "difference of opinion," officials in the L-G's office familiar with the subject said.

Documents seen by HT suggest the confrontation, brewing since April, is over whose panel of public prosecutors should represent the state in the trials pertaining to the northeast Delhi riots, which claimed 53 lives and left over 400 injured. So far, the police have registered 752 FIRs and arrested 1,300 people in connection with the Hindu-Muslim violence

The L-G, in a string of written communication between him and the Kejriwal government, has stated that the panel proposed by the Delhi Police should be notified and allowed to fight the cases because the riots "disturbed public order" in the capital and "effective prosecution" was needed "to restore faith of the general public and in the Delhi government". HT has reviewed the correspondence.

The Kejriwal government wants its own panel of "independent and technically qualified" special public prosecutors to be appointed to represent the state.

On Thursday, the Kejriwal government approved a panel of prosecutors in a Cabinet meeting. Hours later, senior officials in L-G office said that Baijal was referring the matter to the President for his intervention.

A Delhi government spokesperson said: "Invoking the provision of difference of opinion this time, the L-G has not bothered to make it clear as to how 'good governance', a reason cited by him in his previous such orders, is being served by blatantly subverting the process of appointment of public prosecutors. This clearly appears to be a question of Delhi government's panel versus Delhi police's panel because the L-G has not pointed out any deficiencies in our panel, nor has given reasons why Delhi Police's panel should be preferred. Delhi Police being the investigative agency should have no role in deciding the prosecuting lawyers to maintain the independence of investigation and prosecution. "

The tussle began in the first week of April when Delhi police proposed a set of special public prosecutors to argue the riots cases and the L-G endorsed the move. When the file came to the Delhi government for perusal by the home minister Satyendar Jain, he shot down the police's proposal, formed a fresh panel of lawyers and issued orders on April 16 that they be notified as the special public prosecutors.

"The proposal of the Delhi Police suffered from both technical irregularities and {was} malafide. It was malafide because certain names in the panel were found to be directly related to senior police officers...," read Jain's noting on the file, seen by HT.

Documents showed that the Delhi police subsequently withdrew its panel and submitted a second list of special public prosecutors on April 24. But it was again shot down by the Delhi government with Jain reiterating his order of notifying panel. Jain met the L-G on May 21, but the differences persisted. The L-G wrote to the government on May 23 and later invoked Article 239AA(4) of the Constitution (difference of opinion with the council of ministers) to refer the matter to the President.

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