The Nitish Katara case is being hailed as an example of how the law will weigh in with the ordinary person against the powerful. But in a case which seemed fairly simple, if it can be called that, it took 14 long years and the persistence of the victim’s mother to get the murderers 25 years imprisonment. The delays in the criminal justice system allow cases to drag on endlessly, with the complainants often dying before justice is delivered. In the Jessica Lall case, the convict was often out on parole on flimsy grounds before the sentence on him was passed. In this case, the model was shot dead in a bar where there were at least 100 people, yet the police dragged its feet on framing charges even though it was no secret that evidence was tampered with. The same happened in the Priyadarshini Mattoo murder case when it took 14 years for the accused to be sentenced. The Aarushi murder case was perhaps the most glaring example of the ineptness of the police in doing its job.
The police chief of the area openly cast doubts on the girl’s character for which he should have been put behind bars. The crime scene was compromised with all and sundry trampling about. The police were not above selective media leaks on the case leading to all sorts of speculation and conspiracy theories. There are simple rules which are followed in gathering forensic evidence. The first is to secure the scene of the crime. In the horrific Nithari cases in which several children were murdered dragged on thanks to the fact that since the complainants were poor the police would not even file an FIR for days on end.
Witnesses often change their testimony and perjury charges are rarely pressed. In the Upahaar tragedy, it took 19 years for conviction of the owners of the theatre. It is not enough to say that the police are overworked when people’s lives are involved. While the issue of police reforms, and that includes inculcating a culture of professionalism, has been the subject of several committees, we see the same miscarriages of justice being repeated. In the more high profile cases like Katara, Jessica Lall and Priyadarshini, it was intense media scrutiny and the persistence of the relatives which saw some sort of justice delivered.
Experts have said that there is lack of coordination between the forensic laboratories and the police. Evidence often does not even reach in time and the testing process often takes ages. There are so many gaps which together ensure that justice is denied if not delayed inordinately. If the basics of policing which are followed in most countries are followed, there could be much speedier conclusions of cases.