Maharashtra is all set to get a full-fledged witness protection programme. The state government on Friday submitted a draft Government Resolution in the Bombay high court to extend protection to witnesses in serious or sensitive criminal cases.
Advocate general Darius Khambata informed the division bench of justice Abhay Oka and justice Sadhana Jadhav that the draft issued by the home department would be finalised within a few months, within which approval of the finance department would be obtained for funds required to implement the programme.
Currently, on specific proposals by police officers, protection is provided to witnesses in some serious and sensitive criminal cases. But, the bench felt the need for a full-fledged programme to protect witnesses because in several cases witnesses were not supporting the prosecution’s cases in trial courts resulting in the acquittal of the accused, which in turn has sent the conviction rate plummeting.
The issue was brought up by Vijay Jadhav, an eyewitness in a case involving the murder of independent corporator Sharad Leve from Satara. His counsel PP Runwal, sitting MP from Satara, Udayanraje Bhosale, was an accused in the case and is under police protection at present.
In 2001, all accused in the case were acquitted and the state government filed an appeal against the acquittal which is pending before the high court. However, in the interim, the Satara police commissioner withdrew the police protection given to Jadhav stating there was no threat to his life. Jadhav approached the high court as he started receiving threat calls immediately after his protection was withdrawn and the local police merely registered a non-cognisable case against unknown persons.
During the course of the hearing on Jadhav’s petition on October 5 the judges had said during their previous assignment they heard criminal appeals and noted that in about 70% of the cases witnesses had turned hostile leading to acquittal of the accused.