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Justice delayed

Justice delayed
Earlier last week, a Delhi court acquitted two men accused of involvement in the 2005 serial blasts in the national capital, which killed 67 people on the day before Diwali. The verdict brought an end to their lengthy incarceration "From day one, I knew my son was innocent. But it took 12 long years to prove this [fact]. His youth has already passed now," said Ghulam Rasool, father of Mohammad Hussain Fazli, who was one of the two acquitted in the case. It is often said that justice delayed is justice denied. Going by the court's verdict, this appears to be a gross miscarriage of justice. Additional Sessions Judge Reetesh Singh acquitted Mohammad Hussain Fazli, who was just a college student in Srinagar before his detention, and Mohammad Rafiq Shah, a struggling carpet maker at the time of his arrest, of all charges. Meanwhile, Tariq Ahmed Dar, the third accused, was convicted of being a member of a banned terrorist organisation, even though the judge proclaimed that the court found no evidence linking him to the blasts.

"In the absence of any evidence regarding Dar being involved in the conspiracy behind these blasts, none of the charges framed against him is made out," the court said. On the one hand, there is a line in director Hansal Mehta's "Shahid", a biopic about the famous trial lawyer, Shahid Azmi, which captures the essence of this case. "Waqt lagta hai, par ho jaata hai," says one of the characters. "The Indian judiciary works." The independence of India's lower courts is often brought into question in such sensitive cases. Last week's verdict, though, reaffirms the idea that justice is indeed possible. On the other hand, however, our investigative agencies and prosecutors seem unable to do a professional job of investigating terror cases, at a time when India is putting pressure on Pakistan to take firm legal action against terror masterminds living on their soil. What's even more worrying is that instead of catching the real culprits, our investigative agencies and prosecutors continue to find themselves on wrong trails, while framing innocent persons.

In Delhi serial blasts case, the story is painfully familiar. Innocent persons, disproportionately Muslim, are arrested by the police in "anti-terror operations". They are detained for years without any scope for bail, while investigative agencies fabricate evidence, and eventually, false charges are slapped on the accused. There is a growing pattern of acquittals in high-profile terror cases. Mere posturing against terror is not enough. India needs a systemic overhaul of how it investigates and prosecutes such cases. The list of terror attacks, where our security agencies failed to carry out a rigorous probe while ending up framing innocents is indeed long. For example, in the Malegaon blast case, investigators continue to flap around aimlessly, unable to nail the real perpetrators. Credible investigations into terror cases, which include the gathering of proper evidence and sitting on the right trail of active terror cells are imperative in strengthening India's anti-terror apparatus. In its judgment on Thursday, the court had some stinging words for the prosecution. At one instance, the court pronounced that the prosecution had "miserably failed" to prove its case regarding who carried out the blasts. The prosecution even failed to establish a clear link between Dar and other two accused.

Another glaring failure of our criminal justice system is the absence of a responsive and active mechanism to provide compensation for such victims. These victims of the criminal justice system have neither the means nor the time to deal with the many layers of bureaucracy and state agencies that are already disinclined to believe them. How are they expected to go on with their lives after losing more than a decade to the Indian judicial system? A complete reform of the investigation process of the police and a viable compensation mechanism for innocents who languish in jails should be a priority for the government. They must frame proper legislation to fix these lacunae.
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