Monday Musings: Police should ensure fair trial, not trial by media in Elgar Parishad arrests
Is the media a court of law that the police feels it necessary to present evidence before it again and again to convince it that the arrests were in order?pune Updated: Sep 03, 2018 17:08 IST
Why is the Maharashtra police repeatedly going before the media to present “strong evidence” in defence of its most recent arrests in the Elgar Parishad / Bhima Koregaon rioting case? The Pune police held two press conferences on the subject soon after it was rapped by the Supreme Court on August 29. In Mumbai, additional director general of Maharashtra police Parambir Singh did the same on August 31.
Is the media - and through it, the public- a court of law that the police feels it necessary to present evidence before it again and again to convince one and all that the arrests were indeed in order?
Is the police trying to tell the Supreme Court that it had erred in rejecting the arrests and converting it into house arrests?
First and foremost, the police must completely focus attention and deploy resources to ensure accurate investigations rather than leak out information to the media prematurely and create a public perception that those who have been accused are indeed guilty.
When the police go before the media and make sensational allegations and accusations, the media in its eagerness to report the police version, ends up conducting a trial of sorts. Often, people who are innocent get dragged into such proxy trials, and their lives are destroyed in the process.
Take the case of the ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) scientist S Nambi Narayanan who was falsely charged with espionage by security agencies in 1994. All the charges against him were dismissed by the CBI in 1996 and he was not only declared innocent by the Supreme Court in 1998 but also awarded a compensation of Rs 75 lakhs.
The havoc played by the media on the basis of information provided by the police and investigating officers in the Aarushi Talwar-Hemraj Banjade double murder case is still fresh in our minds.
The media trial of Aarushi’s parents Nupur and Rajesh Talwar continued throughout the period of the investigations from the time of the murders in May, 2008. Although they were convicted of the murders by a special CBI court in November 2013, the Talwars were finally acquitted in October, 2017 by the Allahabad High Court on grounds of insufficient evidence.
In February, 2017, a Supreme Court bench took serious note of petitions urging for clear guidelines to be issued to the police and investigating agencies on conducting media briefings in ongoing investigations.
During that hearing, the then Chief Justice of India JS Khehar expressed concern over the media trial of suspects and agreed with amicus curiae Gopal Shankarnarayan that there should be restrictions on police briefings to ensure that the reputation of the accused, who could turn out to be innocent, was not smeared.
Given the sensitive nature of the Elgar Parishad case and the proclivity of the media to sensationalise such cases, the Maharashtra police needs to be restrained in its media briefings on the current investigations.
On another front, given the grave allegations against the accused, this probe should logically be handed over to a national investigating agency. That would add credibility to the investigations which have already come under criticism from no less an authority than the Supreme Court.
First Published: Sep 03, 2018 14:35 IST