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HT Spotlight: Cases made and unmade by Chandigarh cops

What happens to police credibility when they seek to cancel their own cases? The increasing number of cases in which the police had to back-track puts a question mark on the quality of their investigations

punjab Updated: May 23, 2018 13:31 IST
Aneesha Bedi
Aneesha Bedi
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Chandigarh,Chandigarh police,UT police
Wasim Malik, who spent 16 months in jail, narrates his woes at his one-room apartment in Sec 52 in Chandigarh. (Sikander Singh /HT)

Is the Chandigarh police blundering under pressure?

The rising number of cancellation reports in some high-profile cases bears testimony to investigations gone wrong. At stake is the lives of those who were falsely implicated and spent time in jail for no fault of theirs.

The force is already under fire from the Punjab and Haryana High Court for its inability to handle law and order in the city. Calling it a “sorry state of affairs”, last week the court summoned the director general of police (DGP), TS Luthra, over the botched up probe in the Haryana Civil Service (HCS) judicial paper leak case. The full bench presided over by justice Rajesh Bindal observed that it had not seen “such a helpless investigating agency”.

The auto gangrape case

But helpless is not a word Wasim Malik, will ever use for the UT police. The 26-year-old spent a year and four months in jail for allegedly raping a call-centre employee in what was touted as the Chandigarh auto gang-rape case. Last month, the UT police withdrew the charges against him. A resident of Sector 52, Wasim Malik, was booked in December 2016 and charges were framed against him in the subsequent months despite the negative DNA report and the inability of the police to recover the auto from Malik in which the alleged rape took place (See box).

Sarpanch murder

The two persons arrested for the murder of Hoshiapur Sarpanch Satnam Singh in broad daylight on April 9 last year, are also being let off due to evidence that proves they were far from the scene of crime on that fateful day. The 38-year-old sarpanch of Khurd village in Hoshiarpur district was shot dead in full public view by four assailants outside a gurdwara in Sector 38 (West), Chandigarh, on April 9. According to the police, prima facie seven bullets were fired, of which three hit the victim.

While non-bailable warrants were issued against three gangsters who are still at large, Tirath and Arshdeep were arrested. But Tirath’s wife Narinderjit Kaur contested her husband’s arrest. Subsequent investigations of their call details found that both were present in their respective villages on the day when Satnam Singh was murdered.

Rajinder Singh, former DGP of Punjab, says there are various reasons why the police file cancelation reports. “At times the allegations are false, while at other times the allegations may be true but there is not enough evidence to prove them.”

Singh also blamed the increasing number of cancellations on lack of supervision by seniors in the force. “We’ve forgotten the fundamental duties of the police and are busy coming up with patrolling programmes that are populist in nature. Earlier, we used to maintain diaries and keep an eye on the cases on a weekly and monthly basis. We used to compare figures and check any cases pending investigation. I don’t see that happening today.”

Cancellations common in rape cases

Many rape cases have also fallen flat in the recent months. Police officials say cancellations are most common in such cases. Last week, Sector 34 SHO moved a cancellation report in the alleged abduction and gangrape of a student of Dev Samaj College, Sector 45. It was found that the alleged victim and Bablu, one of the four accused, were married. But it was only after he furnished a marriage certificate and other papers such as a rent deed, that he was let off along with others.

Mayor trespassing case

In many cases, the police seem to first take action before conducting any investigation. This appeared to be the case when former UT mayor Asha Jaswal was booked for trespass following a complaint by Nishu Singhal, the then director, social welfare department. Singhal had objected to the Mayor’s visit to Snehalaya following reports that a 12-year-old inmate had allegedly sodomised a 10-year-old. Singhal alleged that Jaswal entered the premises without permission and met a sexual assault victim in violation of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015.

As expected, a few months later, the police submitted a cancellation report saying they could not substantiate the allegations.

‘They cut my hair, beard to match the sketch’

“I’ve lost faith in the police, in humanity after spending 16 months in jail for no fault of mine, that too for a crime as ‘sharamnaak’ as rape.” Wasim Malik’s eyes turn liquid as he looks back at the events that turned his life upside down.

Sitting with his parents and younger sister in his one-room tenement in a Sector 52 colony, the 26-year-old is anxiously awaiting the court verdict after the UT police moved an application withdrawing the charges against him. Malik was charged with raping 22-year-old call-centre employee in 2016. The case took a dramatic turn when police arrested the real accused and his accomplice, who confessed to the crime, in March this year.

Malik, who was repeatedly referred to as the auto-rickshaw driver during the case, claims he never owned an auto or drove one. “I used to drive a van for a firm. I was at Hansi in Haryana with the van when I was picked up by the UT police on December 15, 2016,” says Malik.

The cops did not confiscate his van, but they arrested him. “They said the FIR mentioned an auto, so they couldn’t take the vehicle along. I can never forget their words,” says a teary-eyed Malik.

The three policemen did everything to make him look like the accused. A barber chopped his hair and shaved his beard so that he resembled the sketch that the police already had in their hands.

Mustari Begum, his 60-year-old mother who suffers from asthma, is still trying to come to terms with the case, while his 64-year-old father has taken to working on daily wages to make ends meet.

The family has spent all its savings on the litigation. They sold off the little jewellery they had to furnish Malik’s bail bonds.

The case, they say, has dealt an irreparable blow to both their finances and reputation. It resulted in breaking the youngest sibling’s marriage. A family from Delhi, which wanted to fix their daughter’s marriage with Wasim, has cut off all ties with them.

Their own family members, they lament, eye Malik with suspicion. As his 22-year-old sister puts it, “His reputation has been ruined.”

We have proposed 1,355 more posts, says SP (crime and investigation) Ravi Kumar

The Chandigarh police filed cancellation report in some of the most high profile cases in the recent past, the auto gangrape being one of them. What is your stand on this?

I don’t think we can generalise this case. In the auto gangrape case, the victim herself identified the accused, Wasim Malik, during the identification parade. We can’t contest the testimony of a rape victim. It was while recording her statement in court that she changed her statement, and said she wasn’t sure whether it was him.

Q. Don’t you think cancelation reports in heinous crimes like that of murder speak poorly of the investigation process?

We have to understand that the police can’t be everywhere. We can’t predict where a crime will occur next. There are various things we take into account while investigating a murder spot; we go by hear-say. There are times things are not clear even in the CCTV footage. The news about the sarpanch murder case spread through a video that went viral.

The change in demographics also plays a role. When people talk of increase in crime in Chandigarh in the past one year, they should also look at the rise in migratory population and the glaring gap between the haves and the have-nots.

Q. You mentioned that CCTV footage, instead of helping to nab offenders, has actually been a constant concern thanks to non-operational CCTVs and those that don’t store footage beyond a point.

There are various stakeholders in this and it won’t be fair for me to comment. The engineering department is the nodal officer. Tenders of 664 surveillance cameras were floated for more CCTV cameras long ago, but not enough bidders came forward.

What are the pressures your department faces?

Even though certain cases come under media scrutiny, we have to continue to do our job. As for the force being overburdened, UT has sent a proposal to the MHA for another 1,355 posts, particularly for law and order. At the moment, we have 520 posts for constables.

Do cops filing cancelation reports also face action?

We hold review meetings. Legal opinion is sought to understand who is at fault in such cases. Action is taken against the erring investigation officer.

First Published: May 23, 2018 13:25 IST