IN A move that will give the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) more teeth in its fight against corruption, the facility to test phone call recordings and confirm the identity of the speakers has been started at all the six centres of the state Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) — including Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Aurangabad, Nashik and Amravati — since August 1.
The ACB asks complainants to record a call in which they are being asked to pay bribes and then uses these call recordings as evidence to prosecute corrupt officials. This takes place after the agency gets a positive report from the FSL confirming the identity of the two people — the complainant and person demanding a bribe — talking on the phone.
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To do that, the FSL takes separate voice samples of the accused and the complainant and checks it with the voice samples on the phone call submitted to them by the ACB in which the demand for a bribe is made. The FSL also has to confirm that the recording is not spliced in any part.
But getting this FSL report had become a major hurdle for the ACB as the Tape Authentication and Speaker Identification (TASI) facility that conducts these tests was only available at the Mumbai FSL. The Mumbai centre too had been plagued by staff shortage in the recent past. As a result, it took months to get a report confirming the veracity of the audio tape thereby adversely affecting the nature of evidence the ACB could produce in the court. It also caused inordinate delays in filing chargesheets.
The ACB, as well as the state FSL, had for the past few years informing the state home ministry about the need to take measures to ensure that the facility is expanded across the state, something that finally came through this year.
A senior FSL official, requesting anonymity, said that since August 1, the TASI facility has been started at the other five centres at Pune, Nagpur, Aurangabad, Nashik and Amravati. As a result, the ACB cases that require call recording tests can be sent to the local FSL centre instead of being sent to Mumbai.
“Earlier, even if there was a trap at Nagpur, the official had to physically come to the Mumbai FSL to hand over the tape recording as such evidence cannot be sent by post. This was a time-consuming affair that also caused a lot of delays,” the official said.
The official added that soon after Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis took charge, they informed him about the need to start that facility at all centres as the Mumbai unit was overburdened with over 2000 such cases pending. Finally, a formal proposal was made nearly six months ago and after approval, the facility became operational from August 1.
“In addition to accepting new cases that would fall under their jurisdiction, these centres would divide among themselves and clear the backlog of nearly 1,500 cases still pending with the Mumbai FSL. We hope to get with them within five to six months. Once the backlog is cleared, we hope to send the reports to the ACB in a month’s time,” the official said.
Admitting that the new centres will be of “considerable help”, Praveen Dixit, Director General, ACB, said: “The infrastructure is in place at these centres and the training has started. This would come as a big help as getting the reports quicker will help us in making a strong case against accused. There was a pendency of nearly 1800-2000 cases till now. But we are hopeful of getting reports sooner now.”