MANY THINGS have improved in judicial circles in the past nine years, the district courts complex has shifted from Sector 17 to Sector 43, pendency of cases has been reduced from 1 lakh cases in 2007 to 30,000 cases in 2016. However, one thing that maintains status quo is the witnesses who continue to turn hostile in criminal trials with judicial officers barely initiating perjury proceedings against such witness, one of the only alternatives available as a deterrent to prevent u-turns by the witnesses/complainants.
As per the data procured under the Right to Information (RTI) Act from January 2007 to May 2016 the district courts have initiated perjury proceedings in barely 13 cases either against the complainants or witnesses who turned hostile. Of the 13 perjury proceedings initiated in last nine years, four were initiated by the CBI special court in corruption cases wherein the complainant or witness had turned hostile.
In one of the cases registered by CBI against a UT police officer, the then Deputy Superintendent of Police J S Cheema (now retired) was facing graft charges. He was acquitted by the then CBI’s Special Judge Jagdeep Jain on October 31, 2007. Citing technical errors on the part of the CBI’s investigating officer who laid the trap, the judge acquitted Cheema. The court then initiated perjury proceedings against complainant Ajay Kumar and witness KBS Mann. The remaining three perjury proceedings by the CBI Special Court were initiated in 2008, 2010 and 2011 respectively in separate cases.
The special court for crime against women has initiated perjury proceedings in nine cases in last two years. Most of the cases in which the witness has turned hostile are pertaining to the offence of rape.
Speaking on the perjury proceedings, a retired judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, Justice R S Randhawa said, “In one such case, wherein a retired Senior Superintendent of Police, Gurcharan Singh Pherurai, was acquitted in a fake currency case in 2011 as all witnesses had turned hostile. I took a suo motu notice and said if currency was fake then the cop has been wrongly framed. After I took the suo motu an inquiry was marked and a division bench was instituted and a re-trial was ordered in the said case.”
SSP Sukhchain Singh Gill asserted, “The conviction rate in Chandigarh is not as low as other cities. However, there are witnesses who turn hostile. Initiating perjury proceedings is the prerogative of the court but we as an investigating agency need to ensure that cases are investigated properly.”
Gill added, “A lot of effort goes into investigating a case. The police spend lot of time and money. To solve a case it might take two days to two months or even more. Then judiciary invests a lot of time. In the end if the witness turns hostile, the entire purpose of investigation stands defeated.”