Absolution: On need to compensate for unlawful arrests

Shoddy investigation is one thing, but a malicious and motivated probe is quite another. The probe conducted by former Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) official Sameer Wankhede into a purported tip-off about consumption of drugs on board a cruise ship, in October 2021, seems to fall in the latter category. The raid on the vessel resulted in seizure of narcotic substances and the arrest of several people, including Aryan Khan, son of Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan. Even though nothing was seized from Mr. Khan, the agency made sensational claims in court about his being part of an international drug trafficking network and, quite strangely, cited messages purportedly exchanged on WhatsApp as ‘evidence’. By the time he obtained bail weeks later, the case had all the makings of a witch-hunt. A special investigation team from Delhi, which took over the case after allegations of extortion surfaced against Mr. Wankhede, has now cited lapses in the initial investigation and the lack of prosecutable evidence, and absolved Mr. Khan and five others and excluded them from the charge sheet filed recently. The lapses include failure to video-graph the search of the ship, not conducting a medical examination to prove consumption, and examining Mr. Khan’s phone and reading messages on it without any legal basis.

It is good that the agency made amends for the mischief done by the initial set of investigators by applying the standard of ‘proof beyond reasonable doubt’ while presenting its final report. At the same time, the NCB has to re-examine its priorities. It is an elite agency in the fight against international trafficking in narcotic and psychotropic substances. Its primary focus ought to be on trans-national smuggling networks, while the job of pursuing drug peddlers and raiding rave parties must be left to the local police. While strict disciplinary action is warranted if any officer is found involved in ‘fixing’ someone, it is also time that the Government came out with a legal framework for compensating those jailed without proof. The country does not have a law on the grant of compensation to those maliciously prosecuted. However, constitutional courts do exercise their vast powers sometimes to award monetary recompense; the remedy of a civil suit is also available in law, but it is time-consuming. The Law Commission of India has recommended enactment of a law to make compensation in such cases an enforceable right. Currently, Section 358 of the Cr.P.C. provides for a paltry fine to be imposed on a person on whose complaint a person is arrested without sufficient grounds. Such provisions should be expanded to cover just compensation by the state for unnecessary arrests. It is a sobering thought to note that even people with celebrity status and vast resources are not insulated from the misuse of police powers, even while recognising that it is still possible to vindicate one’s innocence and force the establishment to adopt a course correction.

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Printable version | May 30, 2022 1:34:12 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/absolution-the-hindu-editorial-on-need-for-a-law-to-compensate-for-unlawful-arrests/article65473067.ece