A northeast Delhi riots case where police arraigned two men as accused for attempted murder speaks volumes about criminal investigation in the country. Additional Sessions Judge Amitabh Rawat discharging Babu and Imran for the attempted murder charge, but accepting prima facie evidence to charge them with rioting and similar offences said: “The gunshot injury is stated to be caused to Rahul but where is he? His statement is not on record… The state is categorical in saying that the police never saw Rahul. That being the case, who is going to say who shot whom and by whom and where?”
With no victim in the crime, the bitter irony is that the shoddy investigation may have produced two victims. Proponents of encounter killings may want to rethink – in the light of such cases – the perils of investing cops with powers of judge and executioner too. Judge Rawat evocatively quotes Dostoevsky in his judgment: “From a hundred rabbits you can’t make a horse, a hundred suspicions don’t make a proof.” Babu and Imran were in jail until November when they secured bail. With the most serious charge against them in a half-baked chargesheet failing, their trial for other offences must be expedited. The innocent until proven guilty dictum is rarely subscribed to, evident in jails packed with undertrial prisoners.
Such false or poorly investigated cases also highlight the dangers of media trials, with police or netas having vested interest in shaping public opinion on probes in a certain way. Activists accused of criminal conspiracy in the northeast Delhi riots have charged police with leaking chargesheets to the media before courts took cognisance and copies were furnished to them. The media must be alive to the possibility of unprofessional or unethical policing, which endangers the rights of accused to a fair trial.
On many such fronts, be it Supreme Court directing CCTV camera installations with night vision and audio recording at police stations and other investigating agencies covering interrogation rooms, lockups, entries and exits, police reforms are low priority for the political class. Accountability to citizens for law and order failures lies with elected leadership, but that doesn’t imply they exercise stifling control over policing. It is also the political class that must take the blame for recurring communal riots in India, stemming from shoddy investigations that often incriminate innocents while failing to catch and punish the actual rioters.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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