16 years later, Delhi reports only one conviction under stringent MCOCA
With stricter provisions for grant of bail and prescription of longer jail terms, MCOCA was aimed at dismantling organised crime syndicates and its success in Maharashtra led to the act being extended to Delhi in January 2002.Updated: May 10, 2018 23:25 IST
The preface to the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) 1999 says that this particular law was necessary because the existing legal framework was “found to be rather inadequate to curb or control the menace of organised crime”.
The Act’s most recent success in Maharashtra was the May 2 conviction of gangster Chhota Rajan and eight others for the 2011 murder of journalist Jyotirmoy Dey.
However, in Delhi, the law has been less effective.
With stricter provisions for grant of bail and prescription of longer jail terms, MCOCA was aimed at dismantling organised crime syndicates and its success in Maharashtra led to the act being extended to Delhi in January 2002.
Records show that since Delhi adopted MCOCA, the act has been used in more than 57 cases, but police managed to secure a conviction in only one.
The first case under MCOCA was registered on May 6, 2002 against two residents of the walled city who allegedly worked for underworld don Abu Salem. They were acquitted of all charges.
MCOCA has been used unsuccessfully in a number of high-profile cases, like the ones against cricketer S Sreesanth in the 2013 spot-fixing case and Geeta Arora (alias Sonu Punjaban), who in 2013 was accused of running a sex racket. Both were eventually acquitted for lack of evidence.
A senior police officer said that the only case in which Delhi police managed to secure a conviction under MCOCA was against gangster Mohammed Afzal alias Haji Afzal. Afzal, who had contested the 2008 Delhi assembly elections on a Bahujan Samaj Party ticket , was arrested on charges of extortion and land grabbing in 2009. He was found guilty in 2013.
MCOCA has fared much better in Maharashtra. Ten years after it was introduced in 1999, Maharashtra reported a fall in the number of shootouts and a higher conviction rate. Records from 2017 show that as many as 125 suspected criminals belonging to 19 gangs were booked under the MCOCA last year
BS Joon, former director of prosecution in the Delhi government, said, “Police often invoke MCOCA haphazardly. Many times the investigators do not comply with the exact ingredients of MCOCA which means the evidence is weak and the accused is let off. Many times police use MCOCA so that the accused persons don’t get bail and remain behind the bars.”
A senior officer in Delhi police placed the onus of MCOCA’s failures in the capital on the courts. The courts seek “very strong evidence” in MCOCA cases, he said on condition of anonymity. In the 2013 Indian Premier League spot fixing case, for instance, the court acquitted all 34 accused, including cricketers Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankit Chavan, citing insufficient evidence.
“Many times witnesses back out because the people booked in such cases are not petty criminals. When witnesses turn hostile, it becomes difficult for the court to give benefit of doubt to investigating officers,” the officer said. Joon said that when he was the director of prosecution, he had on many occasions advised the police not to use MCOCA but the police did so to try and keep the accused behind the bars.
Special commissioner of police (traffic) Dependra Pathak, who is also the spokesperson of Delhi police, said in MCOCA cases, the police must prove that the suspects are part of a syndicate and that the money they made out of crime had helped them build a criminal empire or been invested in property.
“Criminals are smart. They use the ill-gotten wealth to buy property but they do not register it in their name. They mostly invest in benami property, which makes it difficult for police in some cases to build a water-tight case,” he said. “In many cases they end up getting benefit of doubt.” He added that now, benami property can come under scrutiny and can be attached in cases brought under MCOCA, adding the conviction rate in future would improve. The officer said, MCOCA helps in crime prevention.” The law helps in keeping criminals under pressure. It contains their criminal activities.” he said.