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Feature


Cloak, Dagger & Connivance…

About 40 witnesses die in just one single scam investigation running in the courts… a double-murder in the family of a ‘well connected’ doctor family goes unresolved… the problem lies in crime agencies’ purposely framing faulty cases


cloak-dagger--connivance…

THE Noida double murder case of Arushi (Talwar) and her family’s in-house domestic help, Hemraj, refers to the unsolved murders of the 14- year-old girl and 45-year-old Hemraj Banjade. This was by the family of doctors Nupur and Rajesh Talwar, in Noida. Arushi and Hemraj were killed on the night of 15–16 May 2008 at the former’s home. The police were heavily criticised for failing to secure the crime scene immediately.

After ruling out the family’s ex-servants, the police considered Aarushi’s parents—Dr Rajesh Talwar and Nupur Talwar — as the prime suspects. The police suspected that Rajesh had murdered the two after finding them in an “objectionable” position, or because Rajesh’s alleged extra-marital affair had led to his blackmail by Hemraj and a confrontation with Aarushi.

The accusations enraged the Talwars’ and friends, most of them highly influential and politically connected,   who accused the Uttar Pradesh police of framing the Talwars to cover up the botched-up investigation.

The case was then transferred to the CBI, which exonerated the parents and said they suspected the Talwars’ assistant, Krishna Thadarai and two domestic servants—Rajkumar and Vijay Mandal.

Based on the ‘Narco test’ conducted on the three men, the CBI suspected that the Rajkamal-Mandal duo had killed Aarushi after an attempted sexual assault, and Hemraj for being a witness to that.

The CBI was accused of using dubious methods to extract a confession, and all the three men were released after the agency could not find any solid evidence against them.

In 2009, the CBI handed over the investigation to a new team, which recommended closing the case due to critical gaps in the evidence. Based on circumstantial evidence, it named Rajesh Talwar as the sole suspect but refused to charge him due to lack of any hard evidence. The parents opposed the closure, calling CBI’s suspicion on Rajesh as baseless.

Subsequently, a special CBI court rejected the CBI’s claim that there was not enough evidence and ordered proceedings against the Talwars. In November 2013, the parents were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment but many critics argued that the judgment was based on weak evidence. The Talwars challenged the decision in the Allahabad High Court, which acquitted them on 12 October 2017, calling the evidence against them unsatisfactory and giving them the benefit of the doubt.

VYAPAK VYAPAM

The vyapam scam related to an entrance examination, admission and recruitment scam that was unearthed in Madhya Pradesh in 2013. It involved politicians, senior and junior officials and businessmen and scamsters systematically employing imposters to write papers, manipulate exam hall seating arrangements and supply forged answer sheets by bribing officials.

The scam involved 13 different exams conducted by vyapam, till recently  private recruitment agency for specialised professional courses, for which parents are willing to spend their life’s savings, for selection of medical students and state government employees (including food inspectors, transport constables, police personnel, school teachers, dairy supply officers and forest guards) where the final results were rigged.

The exams were taken by around 3.2 million students each year, many of who were paid proxies for other undeserving students. It also included an “enginebogie” system wherein seating arrangements were manipulated so that a paid smarter student was seated between two others to allow the latter to copy answers from the former.

This scam also led to between 23 and 40 ‘unnatural’ deaths of involved individuals, though unofficial figures run well into more than a 100   custodial deaths and deaths in staged road accidents.

Cases of irregularities in these entrance tests had been reported since the mid-1990s, and the first FIR was filed in 2000.

However, until 2009, such cases were not thought to be part of an organized ring. When major complaints surfaced in the pre-medical test (PMT) in 2009, the state government established a committee to investigate the matter.

The committee released its report in 2011, and over a hundred people were arrested by the police. However, none of the accused has been convicted, as most of them either suspiciously died in custody or were released on bail. The sheer scale of the scam came to light in 2013, when the Indore police arrested 20 people who had come to impersonate candidates for PMT 2009.

NATIONAL MURDERS

NRHM Murder Case: Uttar Pradesh NRHM scam is an alleged corruption scandal in Uttar Pradesh in which top politicians and bureaucrats are alleged to have siphoned off a massive amount estimated at ₹100 billion from the National Rural Health Mission, a central government program meant to improve health care delivery in rural areas.

At least five people were allegedly murdered to cover up large-scale irregularities. Several former ministers of the then ruling party in the state, Bahujan Samaj Party, have been investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation.

The NRHM scam came to light after two Chief Medical officers (CEO) (the top health functionary of the district) were successively murdered in wealthier localities of the state capital, Lucknow.

Dr Vinod Arya (October 2010) and Dr BP Singh (April 2011) were shot dead in broad daylight outside their homes, by motorcycle assassins. Interestingly, the same weapons were used in both crimes.

Deputy-CMO YS Sachan, who is thought to have had a role in the murders, was arrested but died mysteriously while in custody. Subsequently, three other functionaries who were under investigation have also been murdered or died under suspicious circumstances.

GREEN PASTURES GHAZIABAD

Ghaziabad PF SCAM was about sitting and retired Supreme Court and High Court, judges. Allegedly the judges were provided with luxury cabs, mobiles and other services from the provident fund of the district court.

In a mysterious way, the key accused in the matter, Ashutosh Asthana died in jail while the top court was monitoring the investigation. Asthana was alleged to have siphoned off PF funds of Class III and Iv employees of the court, in conspiracy with other staff. This money was allegedly used to dispense favours to several sitting and retired judges of the high court and Supreme Court.

The approvers in the Ghaziabad district court provident fund fraud, who had confessed to involvement and given evidence against the accused, told the Supreme Court that there was a move to suppress the case by forcing them to turn hostile. They alleged that the judicial process was being subverted by recording partial statements and that they were being forced to depose only against retired and not sitting judges. The Central Bureau of Investigation was also not producing all the evidence seized in the case, they claimed before the court.

What is common in all these criminal court battles? They have remained unfinished to date. These high-profile cases that could not pass the litmus test in the court of law and fallen flat are mainly because of the poor investigation, inconclusive evidence and witnesses turning hostile or murdered.

If we pay a cursory look at the killings, they have taken place in a way to dilute the whole issue and despite media glare, the case could not be taken it to a conclusive end till date. The 2G Scam probably is the biggest projected scam, that even cost Congress an election remained inconclusive with wrong figures.

What are the reasons- why is there this tendency of fearlessness that the cases can be worked out from the beginning? Why are police investigations in most of the cases shoddy? Why during the trial of a high-profile case, a prime witness gets killed?

Speaking about this trend, former Bombay High Court Judge Hosbet Suresh said, “The biggest reason for such incidents are the delay in hearing and then the subsequent progress of the cases. The courts are hugely burdened. There is no way that the court could expedite the pace of the matter. Therefore, we need more courts. The infrastructure is an issue and we have a shortage of time. So, there is only one way that the courts should work in shifts. Multiple shifts will work because the same infrastructure can be used. And there will be a speedy delivery of justice.

LAW COMMITMENT

In March 2012, Law Commission of India came up with a report on Expeditious Investigation and Trial of Criminal Cases Against Influential Public Personalities. The report widely talked about inordinate delays in the investigation and prosecution of criminal cases involving serious offences and in the trial of such cases in the Courts.

The report was prepared by the commission on a Supreme Court directive to the Central Government while delivering an order in a Jharkhand matter that witnessed inordinate delay. The report clearly mentioned that the fact that influential political personalities and their henchmen are involved in this case presents an added dimension to the issue and raises questions on the efficacy of the existing systems and practices to counter the moves of such influential persons facing serious criminal charges.

Public interest demands that the criminal cases, especially those related to serious crimes are concluded within a reasonable time so that those guilty are punished. Further, from the point of view of the accused too, the right to speedy trial is a fundamental right.

People get frustrated with the system if at every stage there is a delay and the process of justice is not allowed to take its normal course; more so, when deliberate attempts are made to subvert and delay the process. 

Further, with the long passage of time between the registering of a case and its disposal, either way, whatever evidence is there, will vanish or eclipse.

oral evidence, which in most of the cases is vital to the prosecution, will take a devious or distorted course.

SKEWING CASES

Hostile witnesses and witnesses with faded memories will be writ large in the system, with the long passage of time. Heavy reliance on oral evidence has telling drawbacks. Lack of expertise and sustained effort in investigation and non-utilization of scientific methods of investigation is resulting in a low rate of convictions and even implication of innocent persons.

According to the data compiled by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), in its 2016 report, a total of 1,1107472 cognisable criminal cases were reported at the end of the year. These include cases registered under IPC and special/local laws (SLL). The number of pending cases for trial in 2016 in various criminal courts across the country is 9,488402 while in union territories the number of pending cases for trial is 9,703482.

“Pendency is an issue, but it is just one issue. There is a bigger problem behind this sabotage. And that is weak ‘prosecution’.

The prosecution is not free. unless the prosecution is free from their political masters and different interests, there is no way that we can check on this sabotage. They have so many things on their mind: punitive transfers, penal postings…do we give them the right to act freely?

I feel the prime cause of the weakening of criminal justice system is because of the pressured prosecution”, said the former Chief Justice of India, Justice VN Khare, on the failing criminal justice system.

Quality of investigation has also been an issue for this poor criminal justice system. “The saddest part is that the networking starts from the moment a crime is committed. When the body goes for post-mortem the networking is done for a favourable report. And it goes on till the matter reaches to the court. And the final touches are being given when the objections raised in the court proceedings.  The loopholes become a boon for the accused because of poor investigation” said Abani Sahu, Supreme Court Lawyer while speaking about the falling standards of criminal justice system.  

In 2007, a committee constituted under the Chairmanship of Professor Madhav Menon submitted a national draft policy on the criminal justice system to the then Home Minister Shiv Raj Patil.

Menon, who is a former vice- chancellor of National Law universities in Kolkata and Bengaluru, speaking to Parliamentarian said that the criminal justice system has been affected from every quarter. “The police, prosecution and the whole system is interdependent and that affects the system like anything. on top of all these corruption and influence is also there. We need to work strongly to remove corruption and make it for workable”.

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