The conviction rate of the Mumbai range of the Maharashtra Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) this year hit an all-time low of zero percent with the accused in a total of 29 bribery cases, which completed trials till April, being acquitted.
Incidentally, the number of courts trying the ACB cases in Maharashtra had almost doubled in 2015 and the ACB had thought that this would help in speeding the trials of the long-pending cases and thereby improve the conviction rate. However, the measure doesn’t seem to have worked in case of the Mumbai ACB range.
In 2014, around 39 bribery cases completed trial in the Mumbai ACB range, in which, the conviction came in 12 cases and the conviction rate stood at 31%.
Though in 2015, about 69 cases completed trials in the Mumbai ACB range and the conviction came only in five cases with the conviction rate dropping to a mere 7%.
Mumbai ACB range additional commissioner of police Keshav Patil refused comments when sought a reaction on the dwindling figures. “The accused are being let-off on technical grounds. Many a times the forensic evidence i.e. the audio recording is not taken into consideration. We are apprising the judges of the special ACB courts about the efforts taken by us during the entire process of executing a trap case where government servants are caught red-handed taking bribe. We are also showing them the judgment copies of the accused convicted by other districts. We hope this will better our conviction rate,” said an official.
He added, “Another issue is use of habitual panchas. The panchas get repeated in cases and this is termed as habitual witness. Then there is an issue where the judge or the defence raises questions on the qualification and competency of the investigating officers working on the case, including ones from the forensic lab. Cases pending for a long time in courts is another reason for them getting acquitted.”
The ACB last year had taken a slew of measures to improve the conviction rate. These were to video record the entire trap process, asking the complainant to write the complaint in his own handwriting so that he/she does not turn hostile in court during the trial.
Only using government servants as panchas is another step because if they turn hostile years later when the case comes up for trial, a department inquiry can be initiated against them and they can be punished for turning hostile. In case the panch is a private person it is difficult to prosecute him/her, a source said.