Criminal investigation was my bread and butter for nearly three decades, until very recently, when I chose to hang up my boots. I am aware of the intricacies as well as the highs and lows of an investigation reasonably well.
I do understand the travails of a police investigator in our country. He faces rank dishonesty at the grass-roots level within his own professional group. The state police has to provide the foot soldiers needed to assist in mundane yet vital tasks.
These chores include guarding the scene of a crime; sending either bodies for a mandatory post-mortem or the injured to a hospital for medical attention; preserving the scene of crime against those who have a stake in disturbing it to eliminate evidence; and identifying and assembling crucial witnesses.
Delhi Police Under the Scanner
Preference for corruption and a subconscious bias on grounds of ethnicity, religion or caste, as well as political sympathy or hatred, are all built into the system. This lengthy preamble is germane to an evaluation about what went wrong into the probe to locate Najeeb Ahmad, a JNU student who has been missing from the campus since 15 October 2016.
The Delhi High Court has been caustic about the manner in which the Delhi Police has handled the case despite the gravity of the incident.
Loopholes in Probe
The following facts in particular appear to have invited the High Court’s wrath:
1) The auto driver who saw Najeeb last could not be traced by the SIT formed in this connection. He was located later in November by the Delhi Crime Branch, to whom the case was transferred after the SIT’s failure.
2) Because of this delay, it was believed vital CCTV footage was lost.
3) The Delhi Police did not share details of progress in investigation with its own lawyer.
4) The nine students who were reportedly involved in a scuffle with the missing student before he disappeared were not examined promptly and their cellphones were not subjected to a forensic examination.
The High Court’s observations were followed by a few instructions to the Delhi Police. Notwithstanding this, the missing youth has not been located. The High Court has, therefore, transferred the case to the CBI.
Significantly, however, before the transfer, the court went on record to say that the Delhi Police had carried out its directives without success.
The Delhi Police has been found wanting if one goes by the fact that the missing student has not yet been traced. His mother’s anguish and the High Court’s dissatisfaction are understandable.
If this inquiry reveals callousness on part of the police, accountability has to be fixed.
Improving Quality of Investigations
It is too soon to speculate whether the omissions pointed out by the court were deliberate and motivated. Only the CBI investigation will unearth further facts.
In my view, this case highlights the inadequacies of the investigating arm of the Indian police in general, and not merely the Delhi Police. All reform bodies appointed since the first National Police Commission (1977) have focused on this shortcoming and suggested various measures to upgrade the quality of criminal investigation.
Apart from carefully choosing personnel, a major recommendation has been the development of expertise and the segregation of investigative and law and order functions. This has been implemented only partially, that too only in a few states.
(Dr RK Raghavan is a former CBI Director. 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.)