oppn parties Protecting Witnesses Is Not Easy

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  • Crude prices fall sharply as Saudi Arabia assures normal production in a few weeks. Prices fall by 5.4% to $65.30 per barrel
  • Sensex tumbles 700 points over fears that rising crude prices will deal a body blow to the tottering Indian economy
  • As Rajeev Kumar fails to appear before the CBI despite several notices, the agency forms a special team to locate and apprehend him
  • S Jaishankar says Pakistan is not a normal neighbour and its behaviour is a "set of aberrations"
  • External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar says PoK in Indian territory and the country hopes to have physical jurisdiction over it one day
  • Barasat Sessions court near Kolkata rejects Rajeev Kumar anticipatory bail application citing lack of jurisdiction as the reason
  • PM Modi celebrates his birthday with Narmada aarti and later has lunch with his mother.
  • All 6 Bahujan Samaj Party MLAs merge with the Congress in Rajasthan
  • Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee to meet PM Modi on Wednesday, state issues on the agenda
  • Pakistan to open Kartarpur corridor on Nov 9
  • Rajeev Kumar, ex-police commissioner of Kolkata and wanted for questioning in the Sarada scam does not appear before the CBI despite the state administration requesting him to do so
  • Supreme Court asks the Centre to restore normalcy in J&K but keeping national interest in mind
  • As Trump accepts the invitation to attend a programme in Houston with PM Modi, India rushes to settle trade issues with US
  • After drone attack on Aramco's Suadi Arabia facility, oil prices jump 19% in intra-day trading causing worries for India
  • Imran Khan raises nuclear war bogey again, says if Pakistan loses a conventional war, it might fight till the end with its nuclear arsenal
Sunni Wakf Board and Nirvani Akhara write to the Supreme Court for a negotiated settlement to the Ayodhya dispute
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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.