Fighting Crimes With No Tangible Action
In olden times, whenever a prince was sent for education, a whipping boy used to accompany him. This was because the latter could take all the blames for former’s mistakes or his slow learning. In a democracy, the government of the day has found alternative whipping boys in the form of police or other government departments. It cannot blame the courts for fear of being hauled up for contempt. In the troubled times, police or paramilitary or army deployed in the disturbed areas, has turned out to be the whipping boys.
Seventy-five CRPF personnel and one state policeman were killed in an ambush by Maoists at dawn on April 6, 2010 at Taadmetla village of the then Dantewada district (now Sukma). The police had charged 93 accused, but could arrest only 10 of them. The accused were later acquitted on January 8, 2013, as all the 43 prosecution witnesses turned hostile.
Even at the national level, most of the accused get away with one of the lowest conviction rates ranging from 25 per cent to 40 per cent, of crimes like rapes and murders.
In fact, modern India’s criminal justice system is based on the laws framed between 1861 and 1863. At that time, mass rape or murders or problems, like Naxalism did not exist. Even the Supreme Court of India observed on August 17, 2012, “We can only observe that our legal system has made life too easy for criminals and too difficult for law-abiding citizens.”
The laws in India are built on the distrust of police, and it is no wonder that the witnesses produced by the prosecution turn hostile, possibly more out of fear than any other reason. The law clearly lays down that no confession before a police officer of any rank is inadmissible in law, irrespective of the nature of crime or the time or place of crime.
It is an anachronism that you start with the presumption of disbelief in the law enforcement machinery. This is apart from the absence of the Witness Protection Act or the Whistlblower Act, the need of which has been emphasised more than once by the Supreme Court, the Law Commission and the National Police Commission.
In a number of cases starting from Swaran Singh versus State of Punjab, AIR 2000 SC 2017 and many other cases, the Supreme Court had observed, “A criminal case is built on the edifice of evidence, evidence that is admissible in law. For that witnesses are required whether it is direct evidence or circumstantial evidence. Here are the witnesses who are a harassed lot.”
A witness in a criminal trial may come from a far-off place to find the case adjourned. He has to come to the court many times and at what cost to his own-self and his family is not difficult to fathom. It has become more or less a fashion to have a criminal case adjourned again and again till the witness tires and he gives up.
It is the game of unscrupulous lawyers to get adjournments on one excuse or the other till a witness is won over or tired. Not only that a witness is threatened, he is abducted, maimed or done away with, or even bribed. There is no protection for him.
A witness is then not treated with respect in the court. He is pushed out from the crowded courtroom by the peon. For all these reasons and others, a person abhors becoming a witness. It is the administration of justice that suffers.
For the government, it is business as usual and so the criminals get emboldened. Lynching of rapists and criminals is often reported in the media. A bench of the Supreme Court observed in February, 2009, that the criminal justice system has collapsed. “The courts of magistrate and munsif have ceased to be an option for the common man,” the bench said and compared the lower courts to ill-equipped and ill-staffed public health centres (PHCs) in rural areas. Only those people go there who have no other option.
In Babu Singh v State of UP 8, the Supreme Court of India has stated, “Our justice system, even in grave bases, suffers from slow motion syndrome which is lethal to ‘fair trial’, whatever the ultimate decision. Speedy justice is a component of social justice since the community, as a whole, is concerned in the criminal being condignly and finally punished within a reasonable time and the innocent being absolved from the inordinate ordeal of criminal proceedings.”
The Union Law Minister conceded on January 12, 2013, “Law is perceived as impotent in the face of grave injustice, leading to an unacceptable erosion of faith in the justice delivery system and rule of law.” He added, like his predecessors, in the last 60 years the government is contemplating the structural changes aimed at ensuring the credibility and citizen-friendly judicial process.
The Naxalites have been identified as the biggest internal security threat to India by the Prime Minister of India. Yet, there is no specific law to deal with them or with terrorism. Action is taken against the accused under the laws of 1863, which are not only inadequate, but irrelevant to the current state of affairs in India. The then Home Minister Chidambaram had said publicly on October 25, 2009, “India which is facing serious terror and Naxal threats has an ill-equipped police machinery, especially at its lower ranks… Police system is outdated. Police are ill-trained, ill-equipped and ill-paid… The police constable, who works for 12 to 14 hours a day throughout the year, is the most abused.”
“Everyone believes that he (constable) can be bullied, or cajoled or bribed… he is the most reviled public servant… Self-esteem of average policeman is very low,… And this average police constable is a frontline force for the internal security,” added he, saying: “Constable lives in a very different cultural milieu and brings his culture to the workplace.”
Chidambaram had remarked that there was a very “feeble attempt to improve his behaviour or attitude”.
The pronouncements of the Prime Minister or Law Minister have remained at best the pious wishes, without any action. All in the government of India know the ways, but only a few walk on them. It must bear in mind that mother nature takes away any faculty that is not used. The shortest answer in dealing with Naxalites, Maoists and other problems lies in action rather than sitting idle.
By Joginder Singh
(The writer is the former CBI director)