Whatever it takes to do justice
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Whatever it takes to do justice

The government plans to hive off CBI’s prosecution work to a new directorate. Manish Tiwari reports.

india Updated: May 02, 2009 22:38 IST
Manish Tiwari
Manish Tiwari
Hindustan Times

Everyone knows that getting away with murder, and most other crimes is fairly easy in India. Criminals often don’t get caught, and even when they do, they are rarely convicted in court for the crime. In 2007, only 26.4 per cent of those accused of rape and 35.5 per cent of those accused of murder were convicted. The rest went free.

Sometimes, a hint of this situation makes it to the headlines and seeps into the public consciousness. It happened in 1993, with the Sunny Deol film Damini, which had a scene about ‘tareekh pe tareekh’ — date after date — being all that the court dispenses, rather than justice. That scene is still popular. A version on YouTube has more than 40,000 hits.

The basic plot in films like Damini and the Jessica Lal murder case are similar: powerful criminal with powerful guardian subverts police and legal system to make a mockery of justice. In the real-life Jessica Lal case, 139 witnesses turned hostile when the case was first heard by a trial court in Delhi, and the main accused Manu Sharma, who had shot Jessica in a packed bar, got away. He was later convicted by the High Court after a massive public outcry.

The absence of a synergy between investigators — the police — and prosecutors, meaning prosecution lawyers, leads to contradictory evidence being submitted in court and witnesses turning hostile, says Punjab’s intelligence chief Suresh Arora. This is the situation in most states. The overall conviction rate (which includes everything from traffic challans up) is 42.9 per cent, but there are states where it dips to single digits.

The Central Bureau of Investigation shines in comparison with a conviction rate of 70 per cent at the trial stage. It is a self-contained unit, with its own Prosecution Directorate. Perhaps that is the reason for its popularity; whenever a particularly contentious case comes along, warring parties demand a CBI probe.

This last bastion of reasonably efficient and independent investigation may now be cut to a smaller size. The government has proposed to hive off the prosecution work from the CBI and another central agency, the Enforcement Directorate, and hand them over to a new Prosecution Bureau.

Both agencies have protested this move. In internal memos accessed by HT, the CBI has requested the government to “shelve the plan” as it would “seriously disturb the functioning of the CBI and affect its success”.

The move would “lead to passing of buck (sic) from one organisation to another resulting in collapse of last vestiges of the criminal justice system…” the CBI added.

The ED sent a similar note saying the proposal “appears to have been prepared without due regard to ground realities”. Former Uttar Pradesh DGP Prakash Singh agrees. “The move would amount to emasculating the CBI,” he says. “Whatever credibility it has today will go down.”

A top official of the Department of Personnel and Training, which would run the Prosecution Directorate, however, says the concerns of the CBI and ED can be addressed by laying down a monitoring mechanism.

Senior Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan says this is true, and “the prosecution agency should be able to take an independent view”.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has assented to the setting up of the Prosecution Directorate, and the Union Cabinet has approved it as well. But the government, which completes its term in two weeks, is yet to announce a decision.

First Published: May 02, 2009 22:36 IST