False cases are a major cause of burgeoning litigation.
The absolution of Ashok Kumar, a bus conductor, in the sensational Pradyuman Thakur murder case by the CBI has yet again brought to the fore the issue of false cases and wrongful prosecutions muddying the justice system squawking under the burden of over 3 crore cases. The revelations by Ashok that he was coerced by the police into confessing to killing the seven-year-old schoolboy only highlights the well-known secret how the police uses third degree to extract any confessions. It also raises question marks on the role of the media. Whipping boys are needed to calm the frayed tempers generated by the media and the police are adept at finding scapegoats.
False cases are a major cause of burgeoning litigation. How the police build up false cases and present doctored witnesses has been described elaborately by the Supreme Court in Prem Chand (Paniwala) v. Union Of India And Ors.(1981). Petitioner Prem Chand earned his living as a “paniwala” or a vendor of soft drinks near Delite Cinema in Delhi. He had a few mobile carts which he used for refrigerating water and parked them on the roadside due to the indulgence of the police. Thus, he came to be known as Prem Chand Paniwala. Since he thrived due to his close association with the police and their connivance and indulgence, he became a pawn in their hands and was persuaded and pressurised to be their personal stooge and stock witness. He averred that once he yielded to the pressure of the police to give false testimony disclosing a rubberised conscience and unveracious readiness to forswear himself, there was escalation of demands upon him and he became a regular peddler of perjury “on police service”. The counse l for the petitioner made sensational disclosure that his client was a stock witness because he had to keep the police in a good humour and oblige them with tailored testimony in around 3,000 cases because the alternative was police wrath. When he refused to be their witness any further, the police avenged themselves by initiating externment with the intent of giving a body blow to his business and shatter him financially. Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer wrote: “We were flabbergasted at this bizarre confession but to lend credence to his assertion counsel produced a few hundred summonses where the petitioner was cited as a witness. Were he not omnipresent how could he testify in so many cases save by a versatile genius for loyal unveracity? In justice, justices and justicing and likewise in the police and policing, the peril to the judicial process is best left to imagination if professional perjurers like the self-confessed ‘paniwala’ are kept captive by the police, to be pressed into service for proving ‘cases’. Courts, trusting the police may act on apparently veracious testimony and sentence people into prison. The community, satisfied with such convictions, may well believe that all is well with law and order. We condemn, in the strongest terms, the systematic pollution of the judicial process and the consequent threat to human rights of innocent persons.”
In Pankaj Chaudhary & Others v. State (Govt of NCT of Delhi) , the Delhi high court slammed the police for filing false cases against innocent persons, “This is an instance of how a false criminal case, instituted in connivance with obliging police officials, can virtually ruin the lives of innocent persons.” Four appellants had been facing criminal proceedings for the offence of gangrape for over 12 years. The prosecutrix, a prostitute, was used to frame them. She was in the custody of police one hour before and after the time of alleged rape.
UP DGP Sulkhan Singh, in a recent interview to a newspaper made a frank admission, “The British police was far better than today’s in many ways, especially in behavior and honesty.” He elaborated that during the entire freedom movement, there was not a single case of faking, fake encounter, fake evidences and fake investigation. Ramachandran Nair, a former police constable from Kerala, in his autobiography Nijan, Jeevichu Anthinte Thelivu (Evidence that I Lived) made the blood-curdling revelation how he was forced to shoot Naxal leader Verghese in 1970s in the Thirunelli forests of Wayanad district at the behest of his senior officers. Such instances are not few and far between but we do not have honest policemen like Singh and Nair to debunk the system.
Many countries have permanent commissions on wrongful prosecutions and convictions which award heavy compensation in cases of miscarriage of justice. The Supreme Court of India also introduced the compensatory jurisprudence and awarded compensation in Rudal Shah v. State of Bihar (1983): “The right to compensation is some palliative for the unlawful acts of intrumentalities which act in the name of public interest and which present for their protection the powers of the State as a shield. If civilisation is not to perish in this country as it has perished in some others too well known to suffer mention, it is necessary to educate ourselves into accepting that, respect for the rights of individuals is the true bastion of democracy.” Compensations were further awarded in Boka Thakur v. State of Bihar (1987) and Nilabati Bahera v. State of Orissa (1993). However, the Supreme Court refused to entertain a joint petition by six persons acquitted by it in the 2002 Akshardham terror attack case seeking compensation for their wrongful arrest, prosecution and incarceration almost for a decade. It said that awarding compensation would set a dangerous precedent. It is in conflict with what the Supreme Court ruled earlier in Ankush Shivaji Gaikwad v. State of Maharashtra (2013) that though the award or refusal of compensation in a particular case may be within the court’s discretion, there exists a mandatory duty on the court to apply its mind to the question in every criminal case. The court held: “The power to award compensation was intended to reassure the victim that he or she is not forgotten in the criminal justice system, unless Section 357 of the IPC is read to confer an obligation on the courts to apply their mind to the question of compensation, it would defeat the very object behind the introduction of the provision.”
Delay is another tempting factor that encourages falsehood and perjury. The court has to recognise it and act accordingly. In Ramrameshwari Devi v. Nirmala Devi (2011), the Supreme Court categorically ruled that in order to curb uncalled for and frivolous litigation, the courts have to ensure that there is no incentive or motive for such litigations.
The writer is a senior TV journalist, columnist and author of Justice, Judocracy and Democracy in India