Millennium Post

Crime and punishment

The criminal justice system in India is in need of drastic reforms, from head to toe

The phrase 'Crime and punishment' instantly triggers our thoughts on police and judiciary. Although theoretically, these agencies should uphold the rule of law, in reality, several factors cloud their impartiality, primary among them being the interference of political executives. While the recent incidents of harassment of a female constable in Gujarat, the pressure on a female officer in Manipur, etc., symptomise the sad state of affairs, episodes like the encounter killing of Vikas Dubey in UP underscore the nexus between those in power and criminals. Politicians being in favour of perpetuating the status quo, reforms in police and judiciary for the larger benefit of society are a far cry.

For the fault of having a face-off with the son of the State Health Minister in Gujarat, in the matter of strictly enforcing the 'wearing of mask' rule among their supporters, a female constable of Surat, Sunita Yadav, is being harassed; she has resigned. Similarly, a lady officer, Thuna Ozam Brinda, is being pressured by the Manipur CM and his powerful colleagues to withdraw the charge-sheet, against a drug mafia headed by a political leader, filed by her after she had seized drugs worth Rs 28 crores and cash of Rs 58 lakhs from the gang; she has filed these facts in her affidavit in the High Court. These are only examples of several such incidents in which courageous officers stand up to face the wrath of the powerful.

At the same time, incidents are numerous in which they buckle under pressure to obey their diktats, or align with them for personal gains. As a result, law and justice work to the detriment of victims, and in favour of the powerful perpetrators. The encounter-killing of Vikas Dubey, etc. stand out as classic examples. The clout of Vikas was such that even his name was not figuring in the list of 25 most-wanted criminals released by the UP government a few days before he ambushed policemen.

Bailed out after killing a minister at a PS in 2001, and emboldened with the routes available to escape punishment, he began growing in stature, monetarily, politically, and criminally. As his political career spanned across being a member of Zilla Parishad on the ticket of BSP, and later joining SP, and of late, working for the BJP, and with bail easily available at his door-steps, the list of serious crimes against him expanded to over 65, culminating in the audacious killing of 8 policemen. Ultimately, he got 'exemplary' punishment, not through the legal process, but through 'police justice'.

Although encounters are extremely rare-and-sudden situations wherein police have no option but to fire at an accused in self-defence, they have now become routine tools for meting out police justice, with the same script of snatching of the weapon of a police officer and firing at the police, as is evident in thousands of such incidents in UP.

One of the two police officers arrested for tipping off Vikas Dubey about the impending police raid, KK Sharma, SHO of that area, has even moved the SC for providing security to him and his family since he fears that he would also be killed in a dubious encounter like how Vikas Dubey and 5 of his associates were killed.

With the mantra of 'Jail or Yamraj', the UP CM began a new chapter in 2017. The judicial process being slow, the shortcut to 'Yama Lok' has become the norm. Over 6,000 operations were conducted; 74 enquired into by magistrates and no one has been indicted.

Several complaints of fake encounters in UP are pending with the NHRC. The PIL of People's Union for Civil Liberties is also pending in SC since 2018, although the demand is for the all-important issue of independent enquiries under the supervision of the SC. Even now, 4 such PILs have been filed seeking SC controlled enquiry into the genuineness of the encounter of Vikas Dubey and the criminal-political nexus. Hopefully, the decision of the SC to appoint a retired judge to conduct the enquiry would open Pandora's box.

The judicial process is prohibitively expensive and inhibitive dragging. Over 3 crore cases are pending in district and subordinate courts; over 9 lakh in high courts; and about 60,000 in the SC. Despite the emotional breakdown of CJI Thakur in public, while pleading for resources to bring about improvement, precious little has been done. It is this indifference to reform in the police and legal systems that is the root cause for people to crave for instant justice or to take law into their own hands.

They showered flower petals on police officers when four accused in Disha rape-and-murder case were killed in the encounter. Now, Vikas Dubey's encounter is also being celebrated in UP. At the same time, people have to mutely watch when the influential and powerful ones hijack the criminal justice system to have the last laugh. As such, 55 per cent of BJP parliamentarians have serious criminal charges against them; 37 per cent of MLAs in UP are similarly placed. These law-makers are a law unto themselves!

An MLA in UP, Kuldeep Sengar, who raped a minor girl at Unnao along with his gang, murdered her father while in police custody, and then also tried to kill her in a car-truck collision, was being protected. So was a god-man politician Swami Chinmayanand who was raping young girls nonchalantly.

In the corruption-ridden politics, in which the fortunes of cases against the leaders fluctuate with political alignments, and defections, rule of law takes a back seat. The SC judgement of 1998 that does not allow the corrupt practices in legislatures to be covered under the anti-corruption law, also comes handy. Cases against Mulayam Singh, Mayawati, etc. are kept hanging. Jagan Reddy with over 20 serious cases against him, and Yedyurappa facing corruption charges are CMs.

Under such circumstances, will the politicians ever reform the police as recommended by commissions and ordered by SC, and facilitate the judiciary for delivering speedy and indiscriminative justice? Unlikely, unless and until people demand it in a single voice. It has to happen since every encounter and every mob-lynching is anathema to a civilised society.

The writer is a retired IPS officer and a former Member of Public Grievances Commission, Delhi. Views expressed are personal

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