Last week, the commissioner of police Sanjeev Dayal had highlighted the need for providing security to witnesses in important cases to ensure an increase in the rate of conviction.
The same day, officers from Unit 12 of he crime branch arrested four people for allegedly killing Ayub Pathan, a witness in a murder committed in 2007. The prime accused in the 2007 murder case, Gopal Shetty alias Shettyar, was released on bail a few months ago and had allegedly been threatening Pathan. Pathan was killed in Virar on January 7, days before the trial was to begin. Shetty is absconding.
His partner, Yogesh Prajapati, who is a witness to Pathan’s killing, has gone into hiding because he is scared.
The incident has fuelled the demand for a witness protection programme again. “In some cases, certain policemen provide protection to witnesses at an individual level but otherwise, we do not have either the resources or the avenues to provide protection to them [witnesses],” Dayal had said on the sidelines of the annual police press briefing last week.
The police often rue the fact that the witness in a case either does not want to come to court or turns hostile at the last moment. In the infamous Neeraj Grover murder case, one of the lawyers representing prime accused, Maria Susairaj, had allegedly sent someone to threaten a witness.
“Our system doesn’t guarantee them any security and, at times, they get fed up by the long legal procedure,” an officer said, requesting anonymity. “If the witness has to face the accused in court, he often backs out for obvious reasons.”
Special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam said there should be a provision for protecting witnesses to serious offences such as rape, murder and terror-related cases. “A legislation must be brought in for this,” Nikam said, adding that currently only the identity of rape victims, who are also witnesses in their case, are protected.
The allowance given to witnesses should also be increased, especially in terror cases, Nikam said.