oppn parties Protecting Witnesses Is Not Easy

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  • MS Dhoni decides to take a two-month break, will skip West Indies tour but will not retire
  • Phagu Chauhan is the new Governor of Bihar while Ramesh Bais has been appointed as that of Tripura
  • Governors: Anandiben Patel shifted from Madhya Pradesh to Uttar Pradesh and Lalji Tandon from Bihar to Madhya Pradesh
  • Naga talks interlocutor RN Ravi appointed as Governor of Nagaland
  • Noted lawyer Jagdeep Dhankhar appointed as new Governor of West Bengal
  • 84 NDRF teams have been despatched to 23 states to tackle the flood situation
  • Three persons lynched in Bihar after being accused of cattle theft
  • Delhi police seize a consignment of 1500 kgs of heroin and busts a cartel of Afghanistan-Pakistan narcotics dealers with links to the Taliban
  • Supreme Court gives 9 more months to complete the Babri Masjid demolition case trial
  • Priyanka Gandhi not allowed to meet the families of the dead in the Sonabhadra firing, arrested
  • ICC inducts Sachin Tendulkar in [email protected]@@s Hall of Fame
  • Stock markets bleed for the second day. Sensex crashes 560 points
  • S Jaishankar, Minister of External Affairs, says Pakistan should release and repatriate Kulbhushan Jadhav immediately
  • Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala asks the Speaker to hold the trust vote latest by 1.30 pm today
  • The Government sends a list of 24 questions to mobile app company that runs video app TikTok seeking answers for anti-national and obscene content carried on the platform
Former Delhi CM and senior Congress leader Sheila Dikshit dies following a cardiac arrest. She was 81
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Protecting Witnesses Is Not Easy

By Sunil Garodia

About the Author

Sunil Garodia Editor-in-Chief of indiacommentary.com. Current Affairs analyst and political commentator. Writes for a number of publications.
The witness protection programme is finally in place in India. Apart from the shortage of judges and other infrastructure, the Indian criminal justice system is hampered by lack of witness protection laws or guidelines. As a result of this prosecution witnesses turn hostile due to either being threatened or influenced. This in turn results in very low rate of convictions, which is visible more in rape and child-related cases or in cases where influential persons are involved.

The immediate trigger for bringing in a witness protection system was the Asaram case in which many prosecution witnesses complained of being threatened by his cronies and some were even murdered. But if a survey is carried out it will be seen that witnesses turn hostile mostly in cases where politicians or goons supported by them are accused. In these cases, the police are also involved as either the party that threatens the witness or brokers a deal with them.

Hence, any witness protection programme without concurrent judicial and police reforms, along with improvement in court infrastructure will not succeed. Although the programme as put in place is quite comprehensive and has all the necessary inputs, including changing identities and providing safe houses to round the clock police protection, it is not going to make much of an impact in the absence of an impartial investigating and law-enforcing agency.

The second, and more important, factor is the time taken to decide a case. The courts have to be strict in scheduling examination of witnesses as frequent reappearances in court take a toll on witnesses who suffer mentally and financially. Taking advantage of this, defence lawyers often raise petty points of law to call for re-examining witnesses. The courts have to make it a point to refuse cross examinations unless absolutely necessary and even if so, schedule it in a manner convenient to the witness.

Then again, if cases drag on for years, witnesses either lose interest or fading memory lays them open to being decimated by defence lawyers. Given the number of pending cases and a shortage of judges, if it is not possible to dispose of cases early, then the courts should at least ensure that a particular witness is examined at a stretch and spared repeated visits. He or she must be called for cross-examination if it is absolutely necessary. As technology improves, the courts can even provide for testimony or cross-examination over video conferencing and/or mobile apps if petty points of law are involved.

There is no doubt that protection of witnesses absolutely necessary for them to give a free and fair testimony. A witness will feel secure if he is protected. But this can only come about if those who protect them are also unbiased. If witnesses fear the police more than the goons of the opposite party, the purpose of having them protected by the police will not be served. Hence, it is mandatory to bring in police reforms to have professional police forces in the country who work efficiently under a transparent system with accountability.