When dreaded Punjab gangster Jaipal and aides allegedly shot dead rival-turned politician Jaswinder Singh Rocky last April, the suspects’ jailed friends openly shared celebratory posts on Facebook.
Vicky Gounder, lodged in Nabha jail, claimed he got Rocky killed and even dared Bathinda senior superintendent of police Swapan Sharma to act against him. Such acts by criminals are not uncommon in the state but a raft of new measures by the government, the first such move in decades, might put an end to the brazen behavior.
The counter-measures include a tougher law, video-trial of gangsters and a special task force to tackle organised crime in the border state.
The ball has been set rolling on the enactment of the Punjab Control of Organised Crime Act (PCOCA), 2016, modelled on the controversial Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA). The new law is expected to be in force in six months.
The draft is now with the state home department for legal scrutiny before the cabinet puts its stamp on it.
Why new law
Gangsters accessing Facebook, making extortion calls and virtually running their crime kingdoms from jails are only a part of the problem before the state government.
In the past five years, not a single gangster in the state has been convicted with 55 cases ending in acquittals.
Of the 105 gangsters arrested between 1996 and 2016, only 10 were convicted. In most cases, witnesses turned hostile for fear of the gangster or a compromise was struck.
But under the PCOCA, confessions made before a superintendent of police will be admissible as evidence. All electronic evidence gathered by the police will also be proof valid for 10 years.
An officer of the rank of a deputy inspector general or above will be able invoke provisions of the PCOCA after citing why the crime cannot be covered under the Indian Penal Code alone.
Empowering courts, video trials
The new act will also empower courts. Proceedings can be held in camera, away from the public eye. The names of the witnesses can be kept secret. Special courts will be set up for speedy trials.
If an accused commits a crime while on bail, he will not be able to apply for bail after that. Police can seek remand of the accused again even while he is in jail or judicial custody.
The government also wants to hold trials via video-conferencing, doing away with the practice of escorting suspects to courts after a series of high-profile escapes and killings during the process.
Since January 2015, 37 gangsters have escaped from custody while being brought for hearing and another eight have absconded while on bail.
The sensational killing of gangster Sukha Kahlwan in January 2015 by a rival gang when he was being taken to Nabha jail after a court hearing in Jalandhar is a case in point.
Last June, gangster Bhupinder Singh, alias Sonu Kangla, escaped from police custody while being taken back to the Nabha jail in a private car. Armed assailants surrounded the vehicle and freed him. It was later found to be the handiwork of gangster Jaggu, who was arrested in July.
Jaggu also escaped from police custody in 2013 when he was being brought back to Ropar after appearing in an Amritsar court.
Special task force created
A special task force (STF), headed by an inspector general, will counter such gangs. Apart from one in Amritsar, two special operations police stations have been set up in SAS Nagar and Fazilka. The STF has 12 most wanted gangsters in its crosshairs.
Jammers in jails
Jails are often used by gangsters to regroup. Corruption and laxity among jail staff allows gangsters access to mobile phones to run their criminal rings. Mobile jammers are being put up in jail zones.
Armed police battalions will help jail staff in searches. Nearly `15 crore is being spent on CCTV cameras, while 560 posts of jail warden are being filled soon.