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Suicide puts spotlight on witness safety

The mysterious death of 2G scam suspect and former telecom minister A Raja's close associate Sadhick Batcha raises serious questions about criminal investigation and witness protection, as it is the manifestation of a bigger malaise afflicting the criminal justice system in India.

delhi Updated: Mar 16, 2011 23:23 IST
Satya Prakash

The mysterious death of 2G scam suspect and former telecom minister A Raja's close associate Sadhick Batcha raises serious questions about criminal investigation and witness protection, as it is the manifestation of a bigger malaise afflicting the criminal justice system in India.

This is not for the first time that a key accused or a witness in a high-profile case has been "found dead" under mysterious circumstances.

Many important witnesses/accused in the fodder scam case, including the kingpin Shyam Bihari Sinha died mysteriously.

As people suspect witnesses being "bumped off", police mostly close such cases finding nothing abnormal.

The fact that Batcha's alleged suicide occurred hours before his scheduled departure to Delhi for questioning by CBI and amid speculation about his turning approver complicate the issue further.

Whatever the reason behind Batcha's death, there is a pattern to these kinds of "mysterious" deaths.

Didn't the CBI know about the importance of its witnesses and accused in such a high- profile case?

Senior advocate Rajiv Dhavan said: "So far we had taken the view that 2G case was a corruption case. It now gets murkier justifying the introduction of the CBI, which, however, does not know how to protect its witnesses".

Former Uttar Pradesh DGP Prakash Singh said: "I would not say that they (CBI) have been negligent…but death of a witness or an accused likely to turn approver could adversely affect the case."

He, however, blamed the government for this situation.

"The government has deliberately not expanded the CBI's strength."

Dhavan and Singh lamented that India did not have a witness protection programme.

After the mysterious death of Ashutosh Asthana, prime accused and witness in the Ghaziabad PF scam, this is the second SC-monitored probe that has witnessed mysterious death.

Ignoring the criticism over judicial overreach, courts have done many a thing that has been seen as an encroachment into the executive's domain.

Why not do something about a crucial aspect of the criminal justice system? It will be welcomed by one and all.