oppn parties Protecting Witnesses Is Not Easy

News Snippets

  • In reply to a question in Parliament, the government says it is empowered to lawfully intercept, monitor or decrpyt information stored in a computer resource in the interest of sovereignty or integrity of India
  • Police stop a 12-year old girl on her way to the Sabarimala shrine
  • In Karnataka, the JD(S) indicates that it might support the BJP government if it falls short of numbers after the bypolls
  • Congress pips the BJP in local body elections in Rajasthan, winning 961 wards to the BJPs 737
  • After Airtel and Vodafone-Idea, Jio also indicates that tariffs will be raised from December
  • Sources in Shiv Sena say that they might revive the alliance with the BJP if it offers the 50:50 deal
  • A miffed Sanjay Rout of the Shiv Sena says that it will take "100 births" to understand Sharad Pawar
  • Mobile operators Vodafone-Idea and Airtel decide to raise tariffs from next month
  • Sharad Pawar meets Sonia Gandhi and says more time needed for government formation in Maharashtra
  • Justice S A Bobde sworn in as the 47th Chief Justice of India
  • Supreme Court holds hotels liable for theft of vehicle from their parking area if parked by valet, says "owner's risk" clause is not a shield from such liability
  • Finance Minister says she is receiving feedback from many sectors that recovery is happening as there is lower stress
  • Sabarimala temple opens, but police bar the entry of women below 50 years
  • Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman says Air India and BPCL to be sold off by March
  • Media person Rajat Sharma resigns as DDCA president
Two Muslim litigants in Ayodhya refuse to accept the Supreme Court order, say review petition might be filed
oppn parties
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.