Recent acquittal of Abdul Kareem Tunda, a known and dreaded terrorist charge-sheeted by the Delhi Police Special Cell in four cases, on the ground of insufficient evidence against him made news headlines. It was not the first case where Ã¢ÂÂterroristÃ¢ÂÂ operatives, caught by Special Cell of Delhi Police have been set free. Not only pointing to falling standards of investigation, such instances should serve as a wake-up call for the police leadership. Last week, the Bombay High Court commuted, to life imprisonment, the death sentence of IM operative Mirza Himayat Baig after acquitting him of any involvement in the February 13, 2010 German Bakery blast and only upholding his conviction for possessing explosives and forged documents.
A large number of cases of similar individuals, arrested and paraded before the TV cameras with senior police officers reeling off details of their sinister plans to attack various places in Delhi or elsewhere have ended in acquittals and the courts have often passed strictures on the investigation standards. In number of cases, even Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has faced tough questions from the court both at the level of trial courts and at the hands of Constitutional Courts.
Decline in standards of investigation
The State Police and specialized agencies like CBI and National Investigation Agency (NIA) have seen a steep decline in the standards of investigation in the past few years. The courts have often questioned even the veracity of evidence presented by the probe agencies. These instances should set the alarm bells ringing among the senior police leadership and they need to examine the reasons for falling standards in investigation and take urgent remedial steps.
As one entrusted with the responsibility of supervising investigation for a long time, I can say that one of the main reasons for the present shoddy state of affairs is that during the basic training in Police Training Colleges or Academies, the emphasis on the crucial task of policing is taking a back seat. Of late, the thrust in training even in SVP National Police Academy has been on operational policing i.e. field tactics, anti-insurgency operations, law and order management etc. There are more number of refresher courses offered in these areas than on investigation.
And once the officers are out of training institutions, they are generally posted in the areas facing problems of extremism, insurgency and communal clashes. These and law and order jobs have become more glamorous as these allow the officers to be in the limelight and get media glare. There are a number of rewards and incentives instituted by the governments- including out of turn promotion if a police officer can catch a known extremist/ terrorist or able to Ã¢ÂÂeliminateÃ¢ÂÂ such elements in an encounter. All this has made the investigation job not much sought after. Consequently, the bright ones stay away from the core area of police functioning and do not pick up traits of scientific investigation. Later in the career, they find it difficult to learn the essentials of the investigation which not only requires a particular bend of mind but also an in-depth knowledge of law and procedures. The class room training helps only to an extent in learning the basics of the investigation but to be a successful investigator one requires the field experience coupled with understanding of the importance of gathering hard core admissible evidence to prove a case beyond reasonable doubt in the court.
Criminals without borders
Over the years, the crime has not only become global but has also acquired new dimensions. The cross-border terrorism, economic and cyber-crime have emerged as the new age crime where the boundaries of the nations have lost their relevance. The criminals easily commit crime sitting in a foreign land which may have laws which help them in frustrating the collection of evidence by the investigation agencies. The traditional methods of gathering evidence may not work in many of these cases.
The police officers are required to understand the complexities of financial transactions carried across countries and domestic criminal laws applicable in these countries to unravel the intricacies of such cases. The anonymity of criminals coupled with technologies available which may help hide the origin of particular communication makes the job of investigator all the more difficult. A police investigator, therefore, needs to understand not only the complexities of how computers and internet works but also the legal requirements of gathering and transmitting evidence from outside the country, where the information may reside in servers. Unfortunately, these are not taught in the police training institutions and there are very few police officers in the country who can claim to have expertise in investigation abroad.
Since the trial proceedings, which are often intervened and followed by appeals in higher courts, consume a long time the police officers especially the senior police officers who take the final decision whether to charge-sheet or not to charge-sheet a case more so in specialized investigation agencies do not feel accountable for their actions. By the time the courts pronounce their judgements the officers have either moved on or have retired thereby escaping any questioning for their actions.
Importance and glory of an investigator
Thus, there is an urgent need to restore the importance and glory of an investigator. The police training schools/ academies need to put due emphasis on teaching the art of investigation both during the initial induction training and refresher courses. The officers must be exposed to investigation of crime in the field and their performance watched so that those with flair and aptitude are identified and posted to Crime Investigation Department or to be deputed to specialized investigation agencies. Needless to say, the officers excelling in the field of investigation must enjoy same kind of facilities, respect and importance as their counterparts in other areas of police functioning. It must not be forgotten that any battle against insurgents, terrorists, economic offenders, cyber criminals can be decisively won only by getting them convicting without any delay.
On the other hand, the specialized investigation agencies like CBI, NIA, Enforcement Directorate continue to have a large number of vacancies as officers are not willing to join from state police and they continue to be manned by officers from Central armed police forces who are neither recruited nor otherwise equipped to handle investigation. In spite of the directions of the Supreme Court to fill the posts and incentives like additional remuneration have failed to attract officers on deputation. This gives rise to demand and recommendation from various quarters to have a captive recruitment of officers. It must be emphasized that this would not be a solution as this may lead to a situation where these agencies are staffed with in-bred officers who would have very less experience as these agencies investigate very few cases. This unfortunate situation must not be allowed to persist. I have been an advocate of a system wherein certain posts in the investigation wings of the states are financed by the Central Government and states are obliged to depute a fixed number of officers to these agencies. These officers could revert back to the states, after an interval of five or six years carrying with them valuable investigation experience.
(The writer, an IPS officer of Andhra Pradesh cadre, recently retired as D-G of Bureau of Police Research and Development and served for long years in CBI and NIA. The views expressed are personal)”