Two days after a Division Bench of the Bombay High Court pulled up the Maharashtra Police for holding a press conference in connection with arrest of activists over alleged Maoist links, another division bench on Thursday again came down heavily on the ]force for revealing information to the media.
A division bench of Justice S C Dharmadhikari and Justice B P Colabawalla was hearing petitions filed by the family members of murdered rationalists Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, seeking court supervision in probes conducted by the CBI and state agencies.
The bench, after reading the reports submitted in a sealed envelope by the CBI, which is investigating the murder of Dabholkar, and the CID that is probing the murder of Pansare, asked, “What is all that coming in the press, the accusations (that Maharashtra Police is briefing the media)?”
To this, Senior Counsel Ashok Mundargi, representing the CID, said: “We are not a part of it.”
Justice Dharmadhikari replied: “There is so much hue and cry about this media briefing and disclosures made. This over-enthusiasm could be fatal. In cases, where the investigation is in crucial stages, it is not advisable for police to brief media. There is a lack of of maturity.”
“This self-praising, self-patting by police machinery… it will only destroy the investigation, we would expect them not to rush to the press,” Justice Dharmadhikari added. The bench also said that the family members, who are also prime witnesses in the cases, are speaking to the media as “they don’t have faith in the system”.
“There is always a presumption of innocence, media may not know this… the burden of proving charges lies on the prosecution. This may be difficult or boring at times,” the bench said
It added: “Investigative officers themselves go and blur out everything and everybody (other officers) join. The accused may not be convicted, what happens to their life, their dignity, their family, everything is at stake.”
The bench told agencies “to be cautious” and advised them to not abandon the past theories. Maintaining that attempts could be made to mislead the media, the bench said it is not “not happy” with what’s going on.
“Though we are submitting a formal report, we will need sometime, as the custody of the accused is currently with CBI after the ATS arrested them. The CID will take their custody soon from the CBI for investigation of Pansare’s murder,” said the CID counsel.
The bench noted that after receiving a report from the CBI, “it is evident that presently, the investigations are at crucial stage and there have been developments after our earlier order”.
“It would not be proper to observe anything with regard to the content of this report and which is confidential and secret for that may scuttle the investigation. Equally, we have to bear in mind that this court has a very limited role. It cannot pronounce upon anything, much less, the guilt or otherwise of anybody who is being interrogated. The right of those who are being investigated and interrogated are also at stake. Further, the safety and protection of the witnesses … is an important issue involved and any observation from this court… would be improper,” the court noted in the order.
It added: “We, therefore, expect the CBI to thoroughly investigate and interrogate the matter… in the event there is any prima faice case of commonality between the manner in which the crimes have been committed and the involvement of the persons named as accused by the Karnataka Police.”