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While acquitting a man in a case stated to have been handled shabbily by the police, the Court said, "it appears that the quality of investigation is perfunctory not only in this case but in almost 50 % of the cases."
The shabby and perfunctory investigation in a murder case that ultimately saw the Madras High Court acquitting the accused on Tuesday has brought to the fore concerns regarding the quality of police investigations (Balamurugan v. State).
Justice B Pugalendhi opined that the reputation of the Tamil Nadu Police built up by exemplary police officers should not be eroded because of some irresponsible officers.
Looking at the year-wise conviction and acquittal rates between 2016 and 2018, the Judge went on to express concern that the quality of criminal investigation in Tamil Nadu is considerably decreasing.
As a result, the Court took critical note that a large number of people are now supporting extra-judicial processes such as police encounters.
Why should wronglfully convicted person not be given Rs 10 lakhs as compensation?
The casual, perfunctory, careless and biased manner in which the investigation in the case before the Court was handled by the police led the Judge to set aside the conviction of the accused. The Judge observed that the police officers seemd to have acted only to bury the truth.
"An impartial investigation is the basic requirement for any investigation. A fair investigation is also a part of the constitutional right guaranteed under Articles 20 & 21 of the Constitution of India. The investigation must be unbiased, honest, just and in accordance with law. The purpose of investigation is to bring out the truth of the case before the Court of law. But, in this case, obviously, it has been obliterated and the investigation has proceeded in a causal manner as to the whims and fancies of the investigation agency."
The Court further mused on why the wrongfully convicted person in this case should not be compensated by the police officers who conducted the perfunctory investigation.
"Why not a compensation of Rs.10,00,000/- be awarded to the victim in this case, who suffered because of the perfunctory investigation, which could be recovered from the investigation officers, namely, PW12, Thiru N.Muthukumar; and PW14, Thiru Poun and the concerned Deputy Superintendent of Police, Sivagangai?" the Court asked.
On larger concerns regarding quality criminal investigations
Having aquitted the accused, the Court turned to the larger question on fixing accountability on police officers when the quality of investigation is not up to the mark.
In this regard, Justice Pugalendhi noted that there used to be a practice where investigating officers were earlier asked to give explanations in a murder case ended in acquittal after trial. Disciplinary proceedings were initiated if it was found that the investigation was perfunctory, the Court recalled.
"But, it appears, this practice is given a go by and the present day investigations are carried out by certain officers as to their whims and fancies", it added.
The Court went on to raise concern that it is unknown whether police officers are being given sufficient training or if they are qualified adequately to handle proper investigation.
Several judgments rendered for police reforms and improving the quality of criminal processes also remain unimplemented, including the Supreme Court's judgment in Prakash Singh v. Union of India, the Court said.
No doubt that there are circulars being issued by the police when the Courts come down heavily in such matters, but its not known if such circulars are being complied with, the Judge added.
In view of these concerns, the Court proceeded to implead the Director General of Police, the Home, Prohibition and Excise department and the Police Training College at Chennai as respondents to the case. Further, the investigating officers involved in the instant case were also impleaded in their personal capacity.
The Bench has now posed a series of questions to be answered by the impleading respondents concerning measures to ensure the quality of police investigations and to hold irresponsible police officers accountable for lapses.
Notably, the Court has also queried after whether disciplinary proceedings have been initiated against police officials responsble for the acquittal due to their perfunctory investigation.
The Judge has also made queries over possible measures to improve the investigation process such as whether it is possible to issue of a check list on the steps to be carried out during an investigation.
The authorities have also been asked to make submissions on any other suggestion "to avoid the acquittals due to perfunctory investigations, in future, so as to regain the losing glory of the Department."
The matter has been listed to be taken up next on September 22.
Advocate Mohideen Basha appeared for the appellant in the matter. Government Advocate A Robinson appeared for the State.
Read the Judgment: