The alleged suicide by National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) scam key accused Sunil Verma at his Lucknow residence exposes the weaknesses of our criminal justice system that has once again failed to protect an accused (and a possible witness) in a high-profile case.
The fact that Verma's is the fourth mysterious death in the scam being investigated by the CBI only highlights the gullible ways in which the "premier" agency deals with such cases, as it cannot be given the benefit of doubt regarding possible threats to the accused/witnesses in the case.
The saddest part is that rather than being an aberration, the mysterious deaths in the NRHM scam are a part of a larger pattern in high-profile corruption cases in India.Shyam Bihari Sinha, the kingpin in the fodder scam - allegedly involving RJD chief Lalu Prasad - died under mysterious circumstances. Witnesses/accused have also died under mysterious circumstances in at least in two SC-monitored cases - the Ghaziabad provident fund scam allegedly involving judges, and 2G-spectrum scam (See Box).
It goes without saying that witnesses are the eyes and ears of justice. Even to make a document admissible as evidence one needs a witness. But unlike the US and many other developed nations, India does not have any witness protection programme.
Witnesses and accused (particularly those likely to turn approver) need protection both during investigation and at the time of trial to ensure that not only is the case solved and a proper chargesheet is filed but also the charges are proved in the court.
Law Commission Vice Chairman KTS Tulsi said: "Witness protection involves changing their identities and relocating their entire families. We need to have enough financial provision for it. Until it's done, at least cancel the bail granted to all the accused in cases where witnesses are dying."
There are lots recommendations by the law commission, Mallimath committee, the SC and various high courts. But political will is lacking.
The legislative route may take time. Till then. the government should at least notify the guidelines framed by Delhi HC in Neelam Katara case in 2003 as an interim measure.