A murder convict is walking free from his life sentence as papers and evidence pertaining to his case have been destroyed and retrial in the case is not possible.
A division bench of Justice Ranjana Desai and Justice Mridula Bhatkar on Thursday acquitted Akalesh Kumar alias Mithun Mishra, convicted for murdering a street dweller at Girgaum Chowpatty in 1996, as the registry destroyed his case papers as per the provisions of the Criminal Manual.
While acquitting Mishra, the judges have asked all the concerned authorities adapt to new technology. “Be techno savvy, start saving case records on CDs and follow e-filing. This has already been practiced by several courts in New Delhi,” said Justice Desai. Directing the Yerawada prison authorities to release the accused as soon as they got the order copy, the court said: “This verdict should not be followed as a precedent,”
Mishra was convicted on September 24, 1998 and he filed an appeal against his conviction in January 2005, said his advocate from legal aid panel Indrayani Koparkar. By the time his appeal came to the HC, papers related to his case were destroyed by the sessions court registry as per HC Appellate Manual, said Koparkar. When the court was informed that the records were not available, on February 9, it asked senior Police Inspector of D B Marg police to find out if retrial in the case was possible.
On Thursday, senior PI Vinod Sawant informed the court that the complainant in this case has already changed his residence and four witnesses were dead. Besides, of the thirteen witnesses, examined by the prosecution, six were not traceable, said Sawant.
Justice Desai observed: “Efforts have been made by the prosecution for a retrial, but in case of absence of evidence it cannot be allowed…. We will have to follow the rules and acquit the convict.”
To ensure that such a Rule is not misused by convicts by deliberately filing appeals after many years, HC observed: “To prevent the abuse we need to change our criminal manual, E-records need to be maintained in order to give a fair hearing to the appeal.” The HC has asked the registry of the high court to bring this order to the notice of the Chief Justice, who may then issue directives to appropriate authorities in order to maintain e-records in future.