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Botched investigations

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  28 Aug 2017 12:00 AM GMT

Justice delayed is justice denied, but what can a victim do if justice is impossible due to botched investigation? Let us spare a thought for judges too, waiting in vain for the incontrovertible evidence that never gets put up in court. When the 22-year old Karabi-Dubori double murder case meandered to its conclusion last week at Kamrup Metro district sessions court, there was little surprise when the two accused, contractor Bhagya Kalita and his driver, were acquitted for lack of evidence. After this dastardly twin murder shook the State on the night of 31 July, 1995, it appeared the police had promising leads and eyewitness accounts from the victim’s minor son and maid. The expectations rose after CBI took over the case from Assam police and registered a case in November that year. Three years later, the CBI charge-sheeted three persons but failed thereafter to put up a strong case. The ballistic tests on carbines seized and cartridges recovered from the crime scene remained inconclusive, there were inconsistencies in witnesses’ accounts while the evidence furnished failed to meet the trial court’s scrutiny. And in all these years, the third accused in the case remained untraced. Making clear its disapproval, the court in effect observed that investigation should not be conducted with a mindset that it could ‘probably’ unearth the truth — the standards need to be exacting. The victims’ family can now knock at the doors of Gauhati High Court, but will they fare better? The murder of jourlist Parag Das in May 17, 1996, gunned down in broad daylight in Guwahati by four hit-men as he was taking his child home from school, is a case in point. There were many eyewitnesses to this crime, but conflicting versions and faulty identifications were rejected in trial court, while some witnesses turned hostile. The CBI made a total hash of investigating this case, so much so, that the car in which the assailants had come and later found abandoned, could not be furnished in court as evidence. “...the billion dollar question will be what happened to the said abandoned car? No evidence has been led by prosecution regarding this car that, as per own version of CBI, was found abandoned near the place of occurrence without having any number plate,” the Kamrup Sessions court observed while pulling up the investigative agency for shoddy investigation.

There was much protest by rights bodies against the court’s acquittal of the lone surviving accused in July 2009 for lack of evidence, with demands for a fresh probe and public appeal to ‘those having solid evidence to come forward’. The family of Parag Das did file a review petition in Gauhati High Court, but with no improvement in quality of evidence, it too was dismissed in August 2012. After all, the CBI had abstained from filing any petition in High Court against the trial court’s verdict, and in fact admitted that it faced ‘difficulty’ in solving the case because ‘the State police failed to provide them necessary evidences against the accused’. Recently, the family of slain freedom fighter and jourlist Kamala Saikia moved Gauhati High Court again, seeking handover of investigation of his murder in August 1991 to the CBI. After the CID’s fil report in 2008 citing lack of conclusive evidence, the High Court had ordered re-investigation of the case after hearing a petition from Saikia’s family. But with Assam police failing to make any headway after re-opening the case, the High Court has now sought a status report from the State government. It is a fact that these three cases pertain to the period from 1991 to 2001, a decade of bloodshed in the State due to SULFA-ULFA clashes and horrendous secret killings. Most of the killings have remained unresolved till date. But in subsequent years too, there has been little improvement in crimil investigation and conviction rates, whether by Assam police or the CBI. There are occasiol suspicions voiced about crime scenes being intentiolly fouled up and evidence destroyed by some corrupt investigators, along with political interference to derail probes. The Assam police still does not have a separate section in police stations to handle crimil investigations. The burden of investigation is borne mostly by inspectors and sub-inspectors, but they are crushed under the load of law and order duties and VIP protection. They also lack proper support from forensic laboratories, which frequently suffer from shortages of key chemicals and equipment; the interface between investigating officers and experts from law, cyber security and fincial services remains undeveloped. There is little coordition worth the me in the police set-up when it comes to investigative work. Unless Assam police gets moving to redress these weaknesses that have hamstrung it for decades, it will remain saddled with the paltry conviction rate of 10 percent that is far below the tiol average.

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