A case registered recently by the Anti-Corruption Branch of the Delhi Government against an Assistant Commissioner of Police and his subordinates for allegedly extorting money from the family of a goldsmith they had arrested on charges of buying stolen silver has exposed the ways through which unscrupulous policemen can abuse the power vested in them.

The case shows up how dishonest policemen adopt a whole range of means -- from illegal detention and torture to planting of evidence -- to achieve their objectives.

In this case, the Special Staff of North-West Delhi Police had arrested goldsmith Afzal under Section 41 of CrPC that empowers any police officer to arrest any person involved in any cognisable offence without an order from a magistrate and without a warrant.

The provision, which has now been amended -- but not yet notified -- by laying down conditions for a police officer for arresting any person accused in offences attracting not more than seven years’ imprisonment, bestows enormous powers on the police. Under this provision, a large number of criminals wanted by the police forces of the other States are also arrested in the Capital. A usual follow-up action is that the State police concerned are immediately intimated and the arrested accused is handed over to them.

Under the same section, the Special Staff arrested the goldsmith. However, as per the complaint lodged by the goldsmith’s brother, he was picked up six days before his formal arrest was shown. The complainant further alleged that the goldsmith had charged his commission to help some people dispose of the silver to the other jewellers, but the policemen only arrested him and let off the actual receivers of stolen property.

The case pertaining to the theft of silver had been registered at Delhi’s Chanakyapuri police station. “In such instances, the Special Staff that does not have its own police station, and hence cannot register a case on its own, should immediately inform the police station and the investigating officer concerned. It is like any other police officer empowered to make recoveries on the disclosure of the accused, but it should be an immediate exercise,” says a senior police officer.

Under Section 102 of Cr.PC, police officers are also empowered to seize any property that may be suspected or alleged to have been stolen, or which may be found under circumstances that create suspicion of the commission of any offence.

“Legally speaking, the goldsmith’s arrest can be justified. But the alleged undue delay in arresting him and taking to illegal means to plant evidence is uncalled for. As the Chanakyapuri police was investigating the case, the team that arrested the accused should have informed the investigating officer for further action, rather than showing eagerness to recover stolen property through illegal means, as alleged,” explains the police officer.

As per the FIR in the corruption case, the ACP also confesses in the sting operation about illegal detention of the accused and planting of evidence.

While the allegations are still under investigation, it is a universal reality that power of any nature is capable of being abused. It depends solely on the intention of the person in whom the power has been vested. As senior police officers point out, crude means of investigation and interrogation would not help achieve the goal of reforming criminal elements. The force should try and develop skills of interrogation that do not involve any human rights violation. The mechanisms preventing misuse of powers need to be be further strengthened.

Devesh K. Pandey