The Punjab government is yet to implement a Punjab and Haryana High Court directive issued in May 2019 asking all investigating officers of Punjab Police to record statements of witnesses in the criminal cases by electronic means. The government has informed the court that it lacks funds to implement the directive.
The HC, meanwhile, has ordered release of two accused in a drugs case after they produced video evidence raising questions over the FIR registered by the police.
In response to an order asking the state to apprise the HC regarding implementation of its order, the authorities informed that the direction “pertaining to the use of video cameras in crime investigation, recording of statements under Section 161 CrPC by audio, video and electronic means has not been implemented for want of budget for this purpose”.
The information was submitted on behalf of Punjab by Assistant Commissioner of Police (Investigation), Amritsar in a bail matter from the area. The Punjab government earlier had told the court that the matter pertaining to video recording of the proceedings under Section 161 CrPC is also pending before the apex court.
A division bench of Justices Rajiv Sharma and Harinder Singh Sidhu in May 2019 had issued the order regarding the video recording of witness statements to the Punjab government among other directions regarding recording of evidence and protection of witnesses in criminal cases. The government had also been asked to install security devices in the residences of witnesses.
In the bail petition, the single bench of Justice Sudip Ahluwalia ordered release of two accused after noting that there are several discrepancies in official documents, like consent and recovery memos, of the case. The accused had been in detention for more than seven months. The father-son duo Tehal Singh and Ranbir Singh in August 2019 were arrested allegedly with 300 grams of opium and 265 grams of heroin each while moving on a two wheeler. A weapon was also recovered from them.
However, the accused in court argued that they were picked up from their house by the police officials in civil dress illegally alongwith the two wheeler and a licensed weapon. The recovery shown is false, as per the accused. In court, they also produced CCTV footage, recorded from their neighbour’s house, showing people in civil dress entering the house and apprehending them. It was also argued that the compliance of Section 50 of the NDPS Act has not been done and also no information was sent to a senior gazetted officer with regard to the claimed secret information.
After the police told the court that the May direction regarding use of electronic means in investigation was not being implemented, the HC said it has limited option but to consider the footage brought by the accused. “After closely scrutinizing the photographs/extracts from CCTV recording there remains no doubt that the house of the petitioner was raided by the police officials – Inspector Sukhwinder Singh, DSP Palwinder Singh, ASI Paramjit Singh and SI Baldev Singh – who can be identified,” the order reads.
Police before the HC said the CCTV recording pertains to a time period of about 5-6 hours before the actual occurrence narrated in the FIR but that no recovery was made then. Observing that the version brought forth by the accused cannot be discarded outright, the HC regarding the police version said, “If that be so, it is not understandable how no reference whatsoever was made in FIR by police about the incidents recorded in CCTV camera”.
It was also conceded by police before court that no intimation regarding raid on the house was made to any senior officer in compliance of Section 42 of the Act. “In such circumstances, without commenting any further on the veracity, or otherwise of the FIR as drawn up, at this stage, this court finds no justification to keep the petitioner in detention for an indefinite period, since he has already remained in prison in the present case for more than 7 months now,” the court said.
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