Witnesses are often threatened in cases, but Maharashtra still has no policy for their protection
The witness protection bill has devised a lengthy process to set up a system to protect the witnesses which will ensure that it takes a long time for it to become a reality.mumbai Updated: Oct 18, 2017 00:43 IST
From underworld mafia and terrorists to politicians and corporates, witnesses have played pivotal roles in helping the judiciary bring many who are guilty to justice. But what about them? Little has been done to ensure witnesses are safe and are able to give their testimony before courts without any fear.
One recent example of this was the trial in the kidnap and murder case of diamond merchant’s 13-year-old son Aditya Ranka. Principal sessions judge SB Agrawal acquitted Aditya’s cousin Himanshu when the prosecution could not prove their case after a key eyewitness disappeared, said special public prosecutor Kalpana Chavan. The eyewitness had seen Himanshu with his friend, who was convicted in the case, at his pan shop an hour before Aditya was kidnapped.
“The witness was crucial to tell the court that Himanshu and his friend had met. This would have helped us prove that on the day of the crime the two were together since morning,” Chavan said. “Had there been a scheme for protection of such crucial witnesses, we could have proved the guilt of the accused.”
Chavan believes that if the witnesses are not assured of their safety, no one will come forward to depose in trials against gangsters, hardened criminals or cases where their relatives or neighbours are involved. “We have lost many cases because crucial witnesses either didn’t turn up before the court or were threatened against supporting the prosecution’s case,” she added.
But this is not the only case, where witnesses have failed to come to court or feared for their life. On Friday, special public prosecutor Raja Thakre said the witnesses in the murder case of former mayor of Mira-Bhayader Municipal Corporation Praful Patil have been threatened against deposing in court.
Patil was brutally murdered on May 8, 2010. Ajay Pandey and Gulam Rasul Shaikh are accused of shooting and stabbing him after he stepped out for a morning walk.
Also, prosecution in journalist J Dey’s murder case has told the court that the witnesses were threatened. Special public prosecutor Pradeep Gharat has sought protection for the two eyewitnesses in the case.
NO SYSTEM IN PLACE
Except presenting a witness protection bill before the assembly, the state has not done much to safeguard witnesses. Moreover, the bill, which has a provision for punishment for threatening a witness, has devised a lengthy process to set up a system to protect the witnesses which will ensure that it takes a long time to become a reality.
“There is no understanding of witness protection scheme or the concept,” said Chandra Iyengar, retired IAS officer and former Maharashtra additional chief secretary (home). “Let’s not talk only about big cases like of terrorism or gang wars, even in common cases where locals are involved, people don’t come forward to help the agencies out of fear. If we are looking at controlling crime rate in the city and state, protection of witness is a crucial element.”
Echoing the same sentiments, retired IPS officer Meeran Borwankar said, “One of the reasons why we lack in getting conviction despite a good investigation is that the witnesses do not support the case. Witnesses’ protection is very crucial to achieve a good conviction rate.”
Presently with no proper system in place, police officers go out of their way to provide safety to witnesses in crucial cases through informal methods, said Borwankar. “But why do it only for big cases. Why not have a system in place for everyone, akin to what is available in foreign countries?” said Borwankar.