In 100 bail orders: 'Videos' used for arrest in 44; 32 of these failed court scrutiny

Delhi Police efforts to gather video not in doubt but bail orders question quality of evidence

In 100 bail orders: Videos used for arrest in 44; 32 of these failed court scrutiny

New Delhi: Every time the Delhi Police has been accused of conducting a shoddy probe into the north-east Delhi riots of February last year, one of their go-to defence mechanisms has been to assert that all arrests and probes are being conducted strictly according to the law and based on "technical evidence".

The police have said they have used facial recognition software, call detail records, geo-location services, dumped data of phones and even asserted that they have made 231 arrests based on CCTV and video footage.

But according to Millennium Post's review of 100 bail orders of the total over 3,500 bails granted so far, the police had cited CCTV and video footage in at least 44 cases to back their allegations against the accused, of which in 32, the video footage did not stand up to basic judicial scrutiny and the accused were granted bail.

In more than half of these cases, a piece of crucial electronic evidence used by police to corroborate video evidence — Call Detail Records (CDR) of the accused — are either missing from the prosecution's case or failed to show the alleged crime being committed by the accused.

Another problem that the police have run into with the CDR evidence is that many of the crime scenes were found to be very close to the homes of the accused, as a result of which CDR — which can point location that is accurate only up to a point — has been called inconsequential in many cases.

Apart from submitted CCTV or video footage not identifying the accused specifically or showing them from behind or with their faces covered or plainly having no sign of the accused, video evidence in at least 10 cases Millennium Post analysed, was from a day before the day of the actual crime. There have also been cases where the video footage presented by police was not of the crime scene but that of "around the place of occurrence".

For instance, while granting bail to one Anwar Hussain, accused in a murder case, the court noted that the police had submitted CCTV footage from a day before the actual incident on February 24 which was neither "clinching" nor "incriminating" evidence against the accused as claimed by the prosecution.

In the case of one Deepak Tomar, accused of vandalising a shop in West Jyoti Nagar, the police presented "video evidence" against him that was from an FIR registered at the Welcome police station.

Quantity vs Quality

But it is not that the police have not collected enough CCTV and video footage. According to their data, they have used 945 video evidence materials in the form of footage from public CCTV cameras, video of private CCTV cameras, smartphone recordings, video footage from media houses and many others. They hunted video material.

The Delhi Police claim there were over 670 CCTV cameras in north-east Delhi during the riots, of which around 301 were active. Apart from this, 152 cameras installed with MPLAD funds were found non-functional in an August 2020 audit. 72 of these were said to have been damaged in the riots and 80 had torn fiber cables or other accessories non-functional - likely from before the riots, as per their claims.

In addition to all the footage from working CCTV cameras, when asked whether CCTV cameras damaged during riots helped them, one senior official close to the investigations said that they had found a way to access the DVRs of these cameras and had scanned that footage as well.

The Delhi Police used facial recognition software to identify those who had a record in their system, and when that did not work, matched video footage with driver's licence photographs and information from the e-vahan database. Of the 231 identified from video material, 137 were through FRS and 94 were through driver's licence photographs.

Investigators also extensively used Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based technology to enhance CCTV images.

"Some bodies were burnt and were beyond recognition. Faces were identified through the superimposition of the skull on the photographs," one official said.

"Extensive use of technology in identification and arrest was a hallmark of the probe. This helped us to build the credibility of the investigation and counter false propaganda of groups having vested interest, who wanted to derail the probe," another senior police official said.

Yet, as recently as last week, the Delhi High Court while granting bail to three men accused of murder, noted that the police theory seemed like "conjecture" and was "not based on scientific fact".

In a similar case, a local court had last year granted bail to an accused in another murder case, whose religion was incorrectly recorded as Hindu in the chargesheet that went on to accuse him of murdering his own uncle. There was no video material against him and CDR evidence was ruled inconsequential by the court.

While the quality of the technical and video evidence will have its day in court, Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves told Millennium Post that "video evidence in the form of CCTV cameras in the foundation of any case and if itself is faulty, it shows how sloppy the investigation is".

This is the second part in Millennium Post's series on one year since the north-east Delhi riots

Part 1: Delhi Police say 1,753 held but courts heard over 4,347 bail pleas

Part 3: Of courts' bugbears, most common 'doubtful' police, public witness statements

Part 4: A Delhi Police-sized roadblock in victims' path to justice — clubbing of irrelevant, unrelated FIRs

Part 5: Defence lawyers face an opaque prosecution and an uncooperative probe authority

Part 6: Interactions with police have led to a complete breakdown of trust for many

Part 7: Pandemic response helped us repair relations with the community, say Delhi Police

Part 8: Over 2.7K compensation pleas pending re-assessment — all scattered & none to blame yet

Part 9: Justice an afterthought for families of most victims still struggling to move on

Part 10: Collateral damage: Tales from jail, of abuse & trauma

Part 11: How, when and where it began & why it is missing from cops' theory

This Millennium Post series reports stories that highlight the nuances of how the north-east district has changed, what level of distrust has been sown into the community, how policing has changed in the area, how or whether the victims are coping, the problems they are facing with the criminal justice system and the problems police, prosecutors and defence lawyers are having to deal with in courts -- One year after the north-east Delhi riots that killed at least 53 people and injured nearly 600 others.

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