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False Terror Cases: Harsh to Say Police Driven by Religious Bias

With a trial court acquitting two out of the three accused in the Delhi blast case of 2005, The Quint revisits the debate on whether the state is liable for compensation for falsely implicating the innocent in terror-related cases. This article was first published on 31 January 2017.

The focus of criminologists – both academicians and practitioners – until half a century ago had been solely on penology and how to bring down crime through penalties. The near consensus was that punishment alone could alter deviance.The dissent was solely on how deterrent should penalties be. Refreshingly, in the past few decades, attention has shifted partly to the plight of victims of crime and on how to compensate them for the trauma suffered by them.

Legal changes have also been effected to promote victims’ rights. The only regret has been that the judiciary has not made more liberal use of these provisions of law to make amends for any instance of criminal misconduct. One does not yet witness any change in the outlook of many judicial officers. This is the fault of the judiciary rather than of lawmakers.

Also Read: 4 Yrs in Prison & 11 Yrs of Struggle, Yet Half the Justice Served

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Institutional Flaws

  • Police force is in dire need of reforms as the resources have not kept pace with rise in crime.
  • Overload of cases, coupled with declining quality of prosecution staff exacerbates the situation.
  • At the level of lower judiciary, limited infrastructure as well as corruption undermines delivery of justice.
  • If there is evidence of police misconduct, the State has a legal and moral obligation to award compensation.
  • Vigilant judiciary can keep a check on police investigations and ensure that it’s bias-free.

Associated with this state of criminal justice is the question of how to deal with public officials, especially police officers, who had been either negligent or vindictive towards private individuals causing almost irreparable loss to the latter.

This issue has become strident in the recent past with the rise of terrorism and the phenomenal growth in the number of citizens arrested on suspicion. Unable to meet the legal standards of proof, many individuals suspected of committing or abetting acts of terror get acquitted after years of incarceration under trying circumstances. What should the judiciary do to curb rash or vindictive acts of State officials? This is a contentious area for debate.

Overload of Cases and Judicial Flaws

I stand for a mature response to the debate. While I am all for punishing overzealous or reckless officials, no thumb rule should operate. Each case stands by itself.

First, there is an overload of cases to be investigated by the police, whose resources have not kept pace with the rise in conventional and newer forms of crime. The declining quality of prosecuting staff exacerbates the situation. A considerable segment of prosecution is either incompetent or dishonest.

The lower judiciary has to tackle all this with its limited infrastructure. Also, corruption at this level is also not uncommon, resulting in distortions in delivery of justice. The alleged injustice to those wrongly accused of crime, including terror acts, has to be viewed against this backdrop.

Lack of Substantial Evidence

Some activists tend to view acquittals as an index of injustice caused to accused persons. This is far from the correct position. There are no doubt instances of deliberate attempts to frame innocent persons. This arises from personal animosity, and sometimes from political pressure. I do not hold a brief for such dishonest elements in the police.

My stand is that one should avoid generalisations in evaluating police performance. In a majority of acquittals, the prime factor is the availability of only a modicum of evidence to prove the prosecution story. If the police goes ahead prosecuting a suspect even where evidence is flimsy, it is to avoid public criticism of possible favouritism and judicial admonition.

Criticism Against the Police

In my view, where there is no charge of personal vindictiveness on the part of the police, a beneficiary of weak evidence need not be compensated. Where however there is unassailable evidence of misconduct on the part of the investigator in padding up evidence against a person standing trial, the State has both a legal and moral obligation to award compensation to a victim of police vindictiveness.

It is harsh to charge that religious or economic bias motivates all policemen in prosecuting suspects. The criticism is only partially correct. It is facile to expect any public servant to be totally free from bias. To allege that most of the investigations are coloured by bias is being unfair to the police. The available evidence to substantiate this charge against the police is flimsy.

Vigilant Judiciary to Keep a Check on Police

In the ultimate analysis, it is incumbent on the part of top leadership in the police to closely watch out for dishonesty or bias in prosecution decisions. This is a sacred task that can be ignored only at the cost of the reputation of a police force.

I must admit here that there is growing evidence of a casual attitude in the higher echelons towards objectivity in criminal investigations. This is lamentable. I expect the judiciary to be vigilant so that police investigations are more honest and less biased.

(When a trial court acquitted Irshad Ali and Maurif Qamar, former informers of the Delhi Police’s Special Cell on 5 January 2016, the duo had already spent 11 years behind bars. The Quint debates whether the State can be held responsible for implicating the innocent in false terror-related cases. This is the Counterview, you can read the View by Alok Prasanna Kumar here.)

(The writer is a former CBI Director. He can be reached @rkraghu1. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)