Saturday’s order of the National Investigation Agency’s special court to release two young men, after spending six months in custody in connection with an alleged terror plot for “lack of prosecutable evidence”, has activists questioning the efficacy of the investigation system.
Their larger question has to do with the allegation that investigators are quick to pick up people belonging to a certain community, and the impact of this on society. More specifically, legal experts ask, why investigating agencies delayed the release, when it was clear by December (when the case was handed over to the NIA) that there was no prosecutable evidence.
Asks advocate B.N. Jagadeesh, who has in the past represented the 2008 Bangalore blasts accused, “The main question here pertains to the callous attitude of investigators and the State. When an extension to file a charge sheet was applied for after 90 days, why did neither the investigators nor the courts deny it in the case of the two, against whom they have no evidence?”
Mr. Jagadeesh says that there are many such cases where people are arrested in such terror cases, on “flimsy evidence”, are languishing in jails in the State. “Overall, this case and the others indicate that the state has no respect for Article 21 of the Constitution (Right to Life). Nowhere else in the world do investigators first arrest and then begin to look for evidence.”
Ramdas Rao, PUCL member who is part of a team studying the impact of such “terror crackdowns” on families and their communities, says the lack of accountability in the system has had “a devastating impact on the psyche of the minority community”. Drawing from their yet to be published study, he says that the families of those who are arrested live in “total isolation, even from their own community”. “There is an atmosphere of fear and insecurity in the community,” he says
The case of the young Bangalore journalist, Muthi-ur-Rahman Sidiqui, only “exposed the media”, says Gauri Lankesh. “Not only did journalist organisations simply distance themselves from the issue, by applying some sort of “common sense” that he could have been involved, some among his fraternity even went on to speculate and portray him a ‘mastermind’ of the entire plot.”
She added that such speculative stories about those accused of terrorism were commonplace now in the media, and should be countered. “There is no accountability in the system. If investigators could be held accountable for such cases, where they are caught detaining people without evidence and tarnishing their reputation, then some justice can be restored.”
Responding to allegations on the inefficacy of the investigation system, Praveen Sood, ADGP (police computing wing), says it is a “common fallacy or assumption” that those acquitted are innocent. Though he declined to comment on the current case, he said that such allegations were misplaced because the “Indian jurisprudence makes no distinction between those truly innocent, and those acquitted for lack of prosecutable evidence”. “Our conviction rates are low. Yes, there may be a few cases where those really innocent are detained, but unless the system begins to distinguish between the two, it would be unfair to demand that the state should compensate every time an acquittal is made,” he said. “This issue cannot be addressed or remedied at the police level. One way out could be for the state to develop a mechanism to distinguish between disproved and not proved.”