The killing of Punjabi singer and politician Sidhu Moose Wala has generated a media frenzy for varied reasons, including because of the unabashedness with which credit was claimed. A formal investigation will bring out the truth but hastening to conclusions needs to be avoided. It is not uncommon in the underworld to claim credit for crimes one hasn’t committed – your ‘stocks’ skyrocket and the fear rakes in bigger ‘moolah’. It is this fear that fuels the industry.
Law & order and security are a ‘work in progress’, and perhaps no more credit or discredit is due to political leadership than is made out. Of course, clarity of thought, direction and removing political interference help, but in the final analysis, it is police professionalism that is on the guillotine. Both in the pre- and post-incident phases, how efficient and organised the police is makes all the difference.
Dealing With Multiple or Forged Identities
Individual acts of crime are difficult to prevent or detect. However, ‘organised crimes’, or crimes by ‘organised criminals’, are both the dread and bread and butter for police. Knowledge of organised crime gangs or activity requires a proactive approach, pre-emptive intelligence, and busting these networks. Violent organised crimes, terrorism and insurgency need a redoubled focus.
For criminals, criss-crossing territories these days is a cakewalk. All that is required is a passport, visa and money to buy tickets. Open borders with neighbouring countries and their lax entry-exit controls compound matters for the police. Add to this the possibility of the possession of multiple (sometimes of multiple countries) and/or forged passports, and the problem becomes virtually insurmountable. Abu Salem travelled as Danish Baig and Prakash Pandey, alias Bunty Pandey, as Vijay Subhash Sharma. No amount of global searches with their real identities would have netted them. Luckily, we had other leads. If Dawood travels under an assumed identity, of which we are unaware, he could be enjoying unrestricted travels, too.
Catching and extraditing criminals is a difficult task. Perhaps syncing biometric data available at passport offices and immigration controls can help.
Aadhaar data, currently not accessible to law enforcement, needs to be incorporated into the security grid. Privacy activists may consider this an extreme measure, but it’s worth mentioning that the most recent push for ‘Aadhaar cards’ was driven by the 26/11 attacks. The Aadhaar database is the most comprehensive personal information system we have.
Marrying Intelligence Collection & Investigation
For those travelling abroad, it isn’t uncommon to share fingerprints, iris scans and extensive personal and financial details with foreign countries when obtaining visas. The devil is not the access itself but the manner in which it is managed. Building robust systems of checks and balances, judicial or quasi-judicial oversight mechanisms, and starting with a shorter list of crimes for which access could be allowed, is a way forward.
The Punjab police alone have more than a dozen gangsters involved in almost 175 crimes, who are based outside India in countries like the UK, the US, Australia, Pakistan, the Gulf nations, and various parts of Europe. Some continue their activities with impunity from abroad, too. There is no fear that the law would catch up with them. Figures from other states could be equally disconcerting.
In extradition (assuming that Moose Wala’s assassination conspirators are abroad), proving identities, besides connecting the dots in the trail of evidence, would be stumbling blocks. If they have travelled abroad under fake or assumed identities, the police have their task cut out.
The hail of bullets rained on Sidhu from automatic weapons calls for introspection in strengthening gun laws. Creating mass awareness campaigns, instituting rewards for sharing information with the police and quick and exemplary punishments to holders of illicit arms are glaring needs.
Usually, intelligence collection takes place in silos and its investigation interface is weak. Intelligence agencies are reluctant to funnel their inputs, and more so the manner of collection of inputs, into the investigation process. We need to legally marry these two. If the intelligence collection is legal, nothing should deter law enforcement from this.
A Central Agency for Inter-State Crimes?
With huge numbers of expatriates, more money, and speedier transport and modern communications, extra-territorial reverberations get magnified, too. Besides the CBI and the NIA, and to a limited extent the ED and the NCB, other states are not prepared for the challenge. Even the CBI, the nodal agency for Interpol, hardly has the capacity to handle things. If states were to start spewing up their pending cases in a focused manner, the federal capacity to handle them would be seriously strained.
The Punjab police have an NRI cell, as do some other states. The Moosewala incident teaches the police that dedicated institutional mechanisms for handling investigations abroad and extraditions need to be evolved by all states. A dedicated central agency for fugitives is also imperative.
Food for thought – do we not require an agency for the investigation of crimes that have inter-state tentacles? The CBI has been the go-to body for courts, with the NCB, the NIA and the ED pitching in domain-wise. However, there are numerous organised crimes – corruption, arms and drugs trafficking, human trafficking, gang activity, etc – where gaps in coordination impede optimal delivery. Even the ‘Moosewala’ incident spreads across states – the plan was hatched somewhere, weapons provided somewhere else, shooters possibly being imported and masterminds sitting jurisdictions apart.
The Indo-Canadian extradition treaty covers this as an extradition office, and although it provides for prosecution in Canada, the country shall have to decide which state has felt or will feel the effects or consequences of the offence more gravely – India in this case.
A word of caution though: once extradited, the Punjab police would have to ensure that the trial is commenced within six months, or the persons would be entitled to bail during the trial.
Capital punishment being a possible outcome, Canadian authorities may refuse or negotiate a conditional surrender, a lesser punishment. Again, one would have to be prepared for this give-and-take or risk a delayed or no return.
Extradition Is a Tedious Process
Since Goldy Brar is a gangster, he may be involved in numerous crimes. The state would have to take a call on whether to seek extradition in the Moose Wala case alone or other cases, too. Adding more cases could delay extradition proceedings in Canada for each case would have to be considered separately on the merits of the existence of prima facie evidence. However, if India obtains a return in just one case, it may not be able to prosecute in other cases without seeking the Canadian go-ahead again (Rule of Speciality).
If the whereabouts of the fugitives are known, getting Red Corner Notices is not required. A request for ‘provisional arrest’ to the country of residence should suffice to arrest and immobilise the fugitive there. This would need to be backed up quickly with a formal request for extradition within 90 days of arrest.
Assuming that we are able to link the crime to a criminal and conclusively establish the identity, the process of extradition can still be an extended affair, taking anywhere between a couple of months to a few years. If the fugitive agrees to a fast-track return, we could count ourselves lucky.
(The author is an IPS Officer currently posted as DG Prisons, Homeguards and Civil Defence in Nagaland. He tweets @rupin1992. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)