Millennium Post

Muddied waters

The Special Cell division of the Delhi police has once again found itself mired in a disturbing controversy. In a report presented to the Home Ministry, the National Investigation Agency has alleged that five officials, including a deputy commissioner of police, were involved in fabricating charges against Liyaqat Shah in March 2013. The NIA charged officials from the Special Cell of using one of its own informers Sabir Khan Pathan to plant evidence against Shah, who was then charged with being a militant with the Hizb-ul Mujahideen group.

A NIA chargesheet filed on January 24 claimed that there was no evidence against Jammu and Kashmir resident Liyaqat Shah, whom the Special Cell had arrested in 2013. It claimed that Shah was part of a conspiracy to avenge India’s decision to execute Afzal Guru. News reports suggest that the Centre has taken a ‘strong note’ of the findings made by the NIA and it may take action against ‘delinquent officers’, who were responsible for framing fabricated terror charges against Shah. The NIA chargesheet has also confirmed the Jammu and Kashmir Police’s stand that Shah was returning to India, as part of the state’s rehabilitation programme for ex-militants. This is, however, not the first time that the Special Cell’s investigations have come to bear no fruits.

The Special Cell was set up in 1986 to deal with high-profile crime and terror related cases. It soon, however, gained a reputation for big busts that rarely translated into actual convictions in court. A Right to Information inquiry in 2012 into the Delhi police’s investigative wing found that it had only managed a 30 per cent conviction rate. Moreover, in the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai terror attack, the Special Cell lost further relevance after NIA was set up.

Despite creating a new anti-terror outfit, the government continues to task the Special Cell with probing cases that should ideally go either to the NIA or Central Bureau of Investigation. Although it was central to cracking open the 2001 Parliament attack case, the Special Cell has developed a notorious reputation of wrongful incarcerations, fake encounters and other misdeeds. A famous example was the wrongful incarceration of Kashmiri civil rights activist Ikthikar Geelani in 2002 under the Orwellian ‘Official Secrets Act’.

In 2006, the National Human Rights Commission indicted a Special Cell officer for conducting an alleged fake encounter in Northeast Delhi, where five ‘notorious gangsters’ were killed. In addition to the above misdeeds, the CBI has also charged officers from the same agency for trying to frame their own informers as members of the Islamic militant group Al-Badr. Such charges against the Special Cell have not arisen from bleeding-heart liberals, but are facts corroborated by city court judgements and central investigative agencies. The government must, therefore, act swiftly against those errant officers involved in the wrongful incarceration of Liyaqat Shah, besides establishing concrete reform for its investigative wing.
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