West Bengal Panchayat polls: Witness protection draft in, SC seeks response

The draft scheme identifies “three categories of witnesses as per threat perception”.

Written by Ananthakrishnan G | New Delhi | Published: April 14, 2018 3:52:06 am
Supreme Court on West Bengal Panchayat Polls Supreme Court on West Bengal Panchayat Polls. (File) 

The country’s wait for a witness protection programme may soon be over. The Supreme Court on Friday asked state governments to submit their response to a draft scheme drawn up by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). The proposed protective measures include concealment of witness identity, change of identity and relocation according to the threat perception.

A bench of Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan directed state governments to give their inputs by May 22 so that the court can include all that is necessary in its scheme and present it to the court. The draft scheme identifies “three categories of witnesses as per threat perception”. Cases where threat extends to life of witness or family members for a substantial period during investigation, trial or even thereafter would be in Category A. Category B are those where the threat extends to safety, reputation or property of the witness or family members only during the investigation or trial.

Cases where the threat is moderate and extends to harassment or intimidation of the witness or his family members, reputation or property during the investigation would fall in Category C. Expenses for the programme will be met from a witness protection fund, to be established by states and Union Territories. They should make annual budget allocation for the fund, which will also be free to accept donations from national and international philanthropic organisations and amounts contributed as part of corporate social responsibility, according to the draft scheme.

The application for protection will have to be filed before a “competent authority” along with supporting documents. The authority will in turn seek a “threat analysis report” from the Commissioner or Police or SSP concerned. The police officer must submit the report within five days, according to the draft. The Authority too is required to dispose of an application seeking protection within five days from date of receipt of the threat analysis report.

In the report, the officer must categorise the threat perception and suggest protective measures. While processing the application, the Authority shall interact in person, and if that is not possible, through electronic means with the witness and other relevant persons. Proceedings of the authority will be held in-camera.

According to the draft, the witness protection order passed by the competent authority will be implemented by the witness protection cell of the state or union territory. It also puts the “overall responsibility” for implementing the order on the police chief of the state or UT concerned. If the order is for change of identity or relocation, it will be implemented by the home department concerned .

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