NEW DELHI: Expressing concern over the increasing cases of witnesses being murdered, the Supreme Court on Friday directed the Centre to draft a scheme for witness protection in the country.
A Bench comprising Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan asked the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to formulate a draft scheme on the lines of provisions mentioned in the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Act.
“We understand there are lakhs of cases, but it can be done for sensitive cases. Why can’t the Ministry of Home Affairs make out some draft programme on witness protection?” the Bench said, while asking states to file their response on the issue of implementation of their respective witness protection programmes within six weeks.
The apex court issued the directions while hearing a PIL seeking protection for witnesses in rape cases involving Asaram Bapu. Several witnesses in the various rape cases lodged against Asaram and his son in different courts in India have been either killed or have ‘disappeared’.
One of the reasons for the low conviction rates in India is that witnesses often turn hostile because of threat and intimidation or bribery. During the last hearing, the Centre had told the Supreme Court that it could not interfere in the matter since police and other law and order issues fall under the states’ jurisdiction.
The MHA’s affidavit states that it had discussed the witness protection module with other states, but they did not come on board hence it was decided that the matter would be sent to the Bureau of Police Research and Development so that fresh deliberations could be made.
Section 195 A of the Indian Penal Code deals with witness protection and witnesses can seek help from the authorities under this provision. All other countries like USA, Canada, New Zealand, China and the UK have special teams or programmes for witness protection.
Countries where witness protection programme is running successfully: USA, UK, China, Italy, Canada, Hong Kong, Ireland
- In 2003, Justice V Malimath Committee on criminal justice system recommended enacting a separate witness protection law
- In 2006, the Law Commission of India, in its 198th report, provided for a draft witness protection law