NEW DELHI: Following a Supreme Court directive, the Centre has prepared a comprehensive witness protection scheme to ensure they can give their testimony in courts without fear. The SC directive came while hearing a PIL seeking protection for witnesses in rape cases involving self-styled preacher Asaram Bapu, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in one of the cases last month.Several witnesses in the rape cases involving Asaram and his son mysteriously died or disappeared. Some witnesses moved court seeking protection after they were threatened.
Demands for a comprehensive witness protection programme have been raised many times because of low conviction rates in criminal cases because of witnesses turning hostile after threat and intimidation.
The draft witness protection scheme was circulated to all the states asking them to send their comments by May 13. However, according to sources, only half of the states have submitted their views.
According to the scheme, a District Legal Service Authority (DLSA) will identify and assess cases and threats to witnesses and then forward it to the police station concerned.
Witnesses will be classified into three categories—those whose lives and that of their families are at stake and their routine crippled for a considerable period; those facing threat during trial; and those who are moderately threatened.A separate ‘witness protection fund’ will be maintained in each state to meet the expenses incurred in securing the witnesses. The new programme is banking on a 2015 scheme of DLSA for which separate funds have been provided and the police commissioner has been vested with the task of implementation.
As per the scheme, police escorts will be provided to witnesses who are being threatened and if needed, they would be relocated to a temporary safe house. The scheme further says that the authorities would keep monitoring emails and telephone calls of the witnesses to nab the people threatening them. Last year, the apex court had expressed concern over witnesses turning hostile in high-profile cases, resulting in the accused getting acquitted.
Ensuring witness Protection
● Section 195 A of the Indian Penal Code has the provision of witness protection
● Countries where witness protection programme is running successfully include the US, the UK, China, Italy, Canada, Hong Kong and Ireland
● In 2003, Justice V Malimath Committee on criminal justice system recommended for witness protection
● The Law Commission in its 198th report also stressed on witness protection