The government is mulling to introduce a witness protection programme based on best international models for guaranteeing anonymity to those who depose in courts against powerful accused in criminal cases.
The home ministry has sought opinion of the state governments on the move to protect a threatened witness or any person involved in the justice system, including defendants and other clients, before, during and after a trial.
Interestingly, the Delhi High Court last week directed the city government to come up with a witness protection policy within ten weeks to ensure that they are not harassed or intimidated by influential accused in criminal cases.
While the high court order came in the wake of 32 of 101 witnesses in the Jessica Lal murder case turning hostile, the home ministry initiated the move following a recommendation of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission.
"A statutory programme for guaranteeing anonymity of witness and for witness protection in specified types of cases, based on the best international models should be adopted early," the Home Ministry communication to the state governments says.
In most cases, a witness may require protection only till conclusion of trial, but some witnesses in the US are provided with a new identity and may live out the rest of their lives under government protection. This programme was started in the US in 1971.
Most of the developed countries, including the US, Canada, the UK, New Zealand, Ireland and Thailand have their own witness protection programmes. However, despite growing demands, India has not been able to introduce such a programme yet.