Is Justice getting served or hanged due to delays and dishonest investigations in high-profile crimes? Is the “consent” of the State government for a CBI inquiry, where the State is accused of dragging its feet, required for prompt and truthful investigation? Does such legal requirement of consent conform to the Rule of Law (Principle of Equity and Justice) which is universal? Can the accused judge his own case?
A debate has been raging for the last few weeks on whether Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput committed suicide, someone abetted it or is it a case of murder. This is yet to be determined prima facie. At the outset, the Mumbai police came in for criticism for dragging its feet instead of conducting a prompt and honest investigation of this case.
The alleged inaction of the Mumbai police and involvement of long hands of the political establishment meant a CBI inquiry was demanded by the media, victim’s family, etc. But the Maharashtra government quoted law that without its consent, the CBI cannot step in since law and order is a State subject. The principle of federalism was also cited by the State government. Meanwhile, the Bihar government stepped in and issued an FIR. It is also a party in the Supreme court for the CBI inquiry.
A CBI inquiry into criminal cases where State government’s long hands are involved and when it refuses to hand it over to the CBI, hinges on the discretion of High Court or the Supreme Court. Costs involved in moving to High Courts and Supreme Court are prohibitive and beyond the reach of the common man. There is also a possibility of evidence getting sabotaged with efflux of time.
Therefore, the battle is between truth and legal cobwebs, between Rule of Law (Equity and Justice), which is a universal principle, and laws, rules, constitutions, which are country-specific. If it is true that as per the legal provision, the consent of the State government is required for CBI operations, gone are the days when such consent was easily given. Now due to increasing incidence of crime and corruption on the part of political and other supportive establishments, such consent is not given. States want to sit in judgements over their own actions of corruption and crime.
It is here that the “principle” of Rule of Law (Equity and Justice) and the legal provisions or the principle of federalism clash. No doubt there is no absolute federalism on law and order, and crimes. The Concurrent List includes criminal investigation. The Constitution also provides for the imposition of President’s rule for failure of law and order overthrowing legally elected State governments. Thus, there is no watertight separation of crimes and law and order between States and the Centre.
Laws/legal provisions are not completely monitored with good intention or common sense. Vested interests in society and government have a hand in framing them. So also their (law) amendments. Let me cite a couple of examples. The NDA-led Central government some time ago amended the anti-corruption law (The Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988). Its key provision of disproportionate assets was diluted through the amendment. The criminal provision of “abuse of public office” was deleted.
What public purpose is served by these amendments? Was there any social or political movement to dilute the law? In the same way, it is learnt that the Right to Information Act was amended. No public purpose served in weakening of anti-corruption law or the RTI Act, 2005. Over the years, there had been progressive growth of anti-corruption law by adding the provision of disproportionate assets and abuse of public office. This growth was nullified in a single stroke.
Therefore, in the situation where the Centre and States do not agree on a CBI probe on an offence that has occurred in a particular State, instead of leaving the issue to judicial discretion, it is better that a legal provision is made stating that in all contentious cases, a CBI inquiry should be mandatory with a caveat that such inquiry must be supervised by the respective high courts. This is a sane middle path on the route to discovery of truth and justice.
No state or person can sit in judgement over its acts of omission and commission. That is the first principle of the Rule of Law. All laws and constitutional provisions, federal principles need to conform to the Rule of Law, which is a universal principle (Dharma) and for the furtherance of which, our laws, rules, Constitution are framed and institutions established.
In Sushant Singh Rajput’s case, it is highly unlikely that the accused would get convicted and justice delivered. Dishonest medical opinions are well known to police professionals. The autopsy report is under lens for irregularities and infirmities. One missing link in a chain of 10 is enough to give benefit of doubt to the accused and acquit him/her. Therefore, it is necessary that autopsy on bodies in all contested cases is conducted more transparently where one family member of the deceased and a concerned citizen from civil society are present.
(The author is retired IGP)
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