Police officers in India have been notoriously skilled at evading arrest when charged with offences, with credible evidence to suggest that they are aided by investigating agencies in such absconsion. NEERAJ MISHRAwrites about the need to hold law enforcement to the same standards as other accused during investigations.
WHILE upholding an Allahabad High Court order refusing anticipatory bail to an accused under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), a Supreme Court bench comprising Justices M.R. Shah and A.S. Bopanna observed this week that “a court shall not come to the rescue or help an absconding accused who is not cooperating with the investigation”. This observation and subsequent judgement should be applicable across the board, but perhaps most stringently in the case of policemen absconding after FIRs have been filed against them.
Several recent instances of senior police officers absconding across the country
At this very moment, at least half a dozen senior police officials, including at least three at the level of Director General of Police (DGP), are absconding across the country. A retired Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) charged with murder in Uttar Pradesh has absconding since 2019. These numbers do not take into account the many Inspectors and sundry constables on the run, perhaps with the active cooperation of various investigating authorities, or the more than a dozen senior police officials in various jails who were apprehended after having been absconding for a significant period of time.
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Mumbai Police Commissioner Parambir Singh’s is perhaps the best known case. He is believed to have skipped the country altogether after vacillating for favour between the state and Union governments for months over the use and abuse of his powers. There are half a dozen extortion cases lodged against him and he has continued to ignore summonses, both from the Crime Branch as well as the Justice K.U. Chandiwal Inquiry Commission charged with investigating the facts.
Similarly, a DGP level officer, Mukesh Gupta had been on the run from Chhattisgarh police for close to two years before he obtained regular bail from the Supreme Court.
His colleague GP Singh, Director of the Chhattisgarh Police Academy remained on the run for weeks before the Supreme Court granted him conditional bail last month which was vacated last week in a dramatic turnaround in his case. He has since been issued several summons but he continues to ignore them.
Mani Lal Patidar, SP of Mahoba and Arvind Sen, Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of UP police have been charged with murder but have refused to appear before any authority including the courts. All the above mentioned officers have been suspended, and continue to draw 50 per cent of their salaries under government rules.
There may be several reasons why policemen go soft on their colleagues, especially senior ones. Some of it may be because of a misplaced sense of loyalty or gratitude for help rendered during their careers. But the single most important reason remains that of brotherhood. Policemen across the world are unlikely to act readily against their own unless under tremendous pressure from the political executive, media or the courts.
Courts have also often given surprising twists of their own to individual cases but seen collectively, they appear to be guiding the police in the opposite direction.
The case of G.P. Singh is illustrative of this. It made headlines on August 26, 2021, when the Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana said that the political system and changes in government should not become impediments to policemen. “It is often seen that the change in government results in harassment of policemen who had served under a different dispensation,” he said, and in the current political context, it seemed most appropriate. Singh was granted immunity from arrest till October 1 and asked to join the probe, which he did.
But by October 1, the reasoning of the Supreme Court had taken a full 360 degree turn and a division bench refused to extend the bail on the ground that it would send wrong signals and that policemen in high positions should set an example by joining the investigations. The pronouncement is justified. However, for it to be effective, courts will have to be consistent and rigorous in their pronouncements.
In all the above mentioned cases and many more, Sections 82 and 83 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) have not been used by the courts in the manner that they should be.
Section 82 gives the court inherent powers to declare a person an “absconder” after due notice is published.
The courts seem to forget this in cases involving police officers – even those charged with deadly assault cases. In due course, rulings under Section 82 should be followed up with Section 83 proceedings by attaching the movable or immovable properties of the accused if he continues to abscond or not cooperate.
The courts have not done that and in some cases, it has also been observed that the police department has approved promotions in absentia. The absconding officer is given the benefit of the doubt that he has not yet been found guilty by a court of law.
In Chellappan Pillai vs. State of Kerala (1992), the Kerala High Court had laid down that an absconder would not get any relief even if the entire case against his co-accused had been dismissed after charges were framed, and evidence was obtained in court. It stated that absconding itself is a crime, which may have negated all the efforts of the investigating agencies in gainfully investigating a case, even if it was positive for the absconder in the end.
If absconding is such a serious offence, then why are those who are otherwise responsible for upholding the rule of law not held guilty for it? Or is the police only good at coaxing ordinary criminals into surrendering by using family members of the accused to pressure the absconding individual? Former Mumbai Police Commissioner, Julio Rebeiro says: “It is shameful that policemen are accused of not only bowing before the politicians but also paying them for postings. It results in fallouts and political vendetta.”
(Neeraj Mishra is a senior journalist, farmer, and lawyer. The views expressed are personal.)