According to the 2021 National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, Jammu and Kashmir accounts for 97 per cent of the total cases filed under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for terror-related offences. On an average, 20-25 such cases filed under UAPA are taken up in courts in J&K daily. However, the conviction rate remains very low.
To tackle this, as part of a broader counter-terror strategy, the State Investigation Agency (SIA), on the lines of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), was set up last year, and, more recently, Special Investigation Units (SIUs) have been created in each police district.
The result, according to officials, was that police secured 10 UAPA convictions over the last year. While the corresponding figures for previous years were not available, officials said it was marginally higher this time.
Underscoring the need for specialised investigation units, J&K DGP Dilbag Singh told The Indian Express: “Investigations need to be time bound. Since the normal investigation machinery at the thana level is engaged in law and order and special cases among other duties, important cases would suffer sometimes. Therefore, we looked for solutions to this issue.”
He said that following the creation of the SIA in November last year and the SIUs over the last few months, many cases are in advanced stages of investigation and “we can expect more convictions towards the end of the year.”
Currently, the J&K police are investigating 1,335 UAPA cases, of which 1,214 are in Kashmir. Over the last year, the SIA has taken up 80 cases. Of the 884 UAPA cases under trial in J&K, the SIA is handling 24.
Of the cases under trial, 249 are in the North Kashmir Range (Baramulla, Handwara, Kupwara, Bandipora and Sopore); 223 in South Kashmir Range (Pulwama, Awantipora, Anantnag, Shopian, Kulgam); and 317 in Central Kashmir Range (Srinagar, Budgam, Ganderbal).
With a huge backlog of cases at the district level, the process of capacity building started about five months back with the creation of SIUs. The 14-member teams, under district superintendents of police (SPs), tasked with “effective investigation and case building” for UAPA cases, were first set up in the five police districts in South Kashmir, followed by Central Kashmir and then North Kashmir. Srinagar district, because of its case load, has two of these specialised units.
WHILE THE State Investigation Agency was set up as a nodal agency to coordinate with NIA and other agencies, the Special Investigation Units, set up in each police district, were tasked with “effective investigation and case building” for UAPA cases.
A senior official who spoke to The Indian Express said the SIUs will ensure better investigation. “Due to procedural flaws sometimes, the cases would remain under trial for a very long time, or the accused would get bail and there would be little follow-up on cases. This puts a lot of pressure on both jails and courts,” he said.
Another district SP said that in Kashmir, where the situation on the ground remains “more important than follow-up in court”, the thana-level personnel are constrained for time to focus on investigations. “The SIU will only focus on investigations and help secure convictions,” he said. He said this would also bring a shift in arrests, as only “accused with solid evidence that can be produced in court” would be held.
NIA officials were roped in for specialised training of the SIU personnel in forensic capability, evidence collection, ensuring chain of custody of evidence, chargesheeting and presentation of cases, and coordination with the prosecution wing.
The SIA was set up as a nodal agency for “coordinating with the NIA and other central agencies” to ensure “speedy and effective investigation and prosecution of terrorism related cases.” It can register a case independently, or as recommended by the DGP, J&K Police.
According to sources, Home Minister Amit Shah raised the issue in a recent discussion with J&K security officials, and called for incentivising investigations.
Officials said issues pertaining to court proceedings, like witnesses turning hostile or Investigating Officers (IOs) not attending hearings, are now viewed seriously. Each police district reports daily to the headquarters on the status of cases — “pairvi cells” have been set up in each district and police headquarters to keep track of the cases. “There is enhanced scrutiny at every level,” said the DGP.
Meanwhile, the J&K police have raised a key concern with the Centre. While only DSPs are empowered to investigate UAPA cases in the current set-up, the J&K police have sought sanction for inspectors too.
Officials also pointed out that there are only three special courts, in Srinagar, Anantnag and Baramulla, that see an average of 25 cases each per day – these include other cases besides UAPA. This leads to a backlog of cases. “Many times, the accused would have died and the case would still be on. Other times, the witness gets tired of making the rounds of the courts, and the case falls off the radar. So speedy trials are also needed,” said an official.