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Pending cases, burdened thas

For any crime victim in Assam, as in many other places across the country, a double whammy of pendencies give little hope of ever getting justice. The pendency of cases in the courts is well known and is rightly exercising the best minds of the Judiciary and those involved in the country’s governce. But it is a small miracle if a case even makes it to the trial stage. Before that to happen, the case has to clear the pendency hurdle at the tha level. The reality is that so many cases are pending investigations at the police stations, that filing of chargesheet and making it to the court seems an exercise almost beyond reach. Consider what happens when a victim of a cognizable crimil attack approaches the local police station to lodge a complaint. Once the officer-in-charge assigns a sub-inspector or any other subordite official to investigate the matter, things ought to start moving. But do they really? That same sub-inspector is likely to be running after at least 3-4 such cases in a day, provided of course, that he is free of security and law & order duties. But that hardly ever happens in Assam. Take capital city Guwahati, for instance. The sanctioned strength of the constabulary in the average city tha may be around 60, which would have been somewhat adequate in the 1970s. But in these difficult times of much more people, greater stress of living and soaring crime rates, the average Guwahati tha does not even have one-third of sanctioned constable strength. These are the foot soldiers against crime on the streets; they should have been out on the beat in adequate numbers. Instead, the constable is sent out to secure a route for VIP convoys to pass, or to barricade an area to prevent some dhar getting out of hand, or put to patrolling duty at night. It is a back-breaking and mostly thankless workload for the rank and file in police stations.

A sub-inspector or daroga in a larger Guwahati tha may be having dozens and scores of pending crime cases to investigate. He has to maintain regular diaries for every such case, entering day by day record of the investigations done in each case diary. The time the information of a crimil offence was received, the time when investigation began and was closed, the places visited, the statements noted, the facts and circumstances ascertained through investigation — all are supposed to be noted down meticulously in the case diary. But when there might be a hundred case diaries for an investigating police official to fill up, things are bound to slip up big time. If that official is transferred, which happens mostly, there is little likelihood of completing the case diaries. This is happening in police stations across greater Guwahati, which has been a police commissionerate since January 1 last year. Case diaries are important for the investigation of a crime case to proceed on to the trial stage. A court may send for the case diaries, not as evidence, but to aid it in inquiry. If the case diary is incomplete, the trial process gets hamstrung there and then. So what is to be done? Police stations in Guwahati are now lodging cases against investigating officials who have case diaries pending. It is a well-intentioned drive on the orders of the Guwahati police commissioner. But it will fizzle out in no time, unless the State government does some serious math. It must make a realistic estimate of the police manpower needed on the ground, not just in Guwahati but across the State. So long as police administration remains top heavy but spread thinly on the ground, nothing will change. Anti-socials, crimils and terrorists will keep having free runs and holding people to ransom. It is all very well to talk about separate investigation wings in police stations and skilling our cops. But first give the police force the numbers it needs, before blaming it for sundry ills and calling it mes.

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Ankur Kalita