SC Questions Delay In Framing Of Draft Witness Protection Scheme

SC Questions Delay In Framing Of Draft Witness Protection Scheme

Citing the National Investigation Agency(NIA) Act 2008, the Supreme Court today asked the central government why the “already much-delayed” rules cannot be framed for witness protection in the country on the very same lines as included in the NIA Act.

“At least come out with a draft programme..or give good suggestions on the issue. In the NIA (National Investigation Agency) Act, there are specific provisions for witness protection. Why cannot it be there for all?,”, a bench of justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan told Attorney General K K Venugopal.

“We understand the problem as there are lakhs and lakhs of cases and you cannot have it for every case but at least for sensitive cases we can consider if we have a legal framework. Think in that direction. Take a constructive approach. Why cannot the Ministry of Home Affairs make out some draft programme on witness protection? the judges asked.

All the states have been asked to file their reply on the issue of implementation of their respective witness protection programme within six weeks.

Meanwhile advocate Gaurav Agarwal, the amicu curiae in the matter  said “I have written to  Centre and all the chief secretaries and home secretaries on this issue”.

THE BACKGROUND

On September 9, emphasizing on witness protection programme, the Supreme Court has asked the Centre and state governments about the steps being taken to ensure that witnesses in sensitive and high-profile cases are not harmed.

Expanding the ambit of a public interest litigation seeking protection for witnesses in rape cases involving self-styled preacher Asaram Bapu, the bench after hearing Attorney General KK Venugopal,had  issued notices to all the states, seeking their responses on the issue.

"Since in this petition the court is primarily dealing with the issue pertaining to witness protection programme, it would be appropriate to issue a notice to all other states as well," said the court.

The apex court has asked the petitioners, who are witnesses in case related to Asaram, to implead all the states as party on the issue of witness protection programme. It has questioned why till now, the states have not formulated any witness protection programme.

The petitioners are Mahinder Chawla, a witness in a rape case allegedly involving Asaram, Naresh Gupta, the father of a murdered witness, Karamvir Singh, the father of a child rape victim and Narender Yadav, a journalist who allegedly escaped a murder attempt.

The court's direction came in the wake of the petitioners seeking investigation into the instances of attacks and disappearances of witnesses in cases against Asaram.

“Since in this petition, the Court is primarily dealing with the issue pertaining to witness protection programme, it would be appropriate to issue notice to all other States as well. The petitioners shall implead other States also as parties and notice shall be served upon them, returnable in four weeks”, the bench said.

SC also granted the last opportunity to Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, who are already party in the case, to file their replies in four weeks to a plea of four key witnesses in a rape case of minors allegedly involving Asaram Bapu, being tried in Jodhpur.

The bench passed the order as the A-G, assisted by Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand, agreed with the court that it was indispensable for an effective justice delivery system to keep witnesses safe so that trials are not vitiated by fear or by any other form of duress.

The judges were hearing a petition relating to the safety of witnesses in rape cases involving self-styled godman Asaram and his son Narayan Sai.

Notably, at least three prime witnesses in these rape cases have been killed while over a dozen have been attacked. The two rape cases are being tried at courts in Rajasthan and Gujarat.

One of the petitioners before the apex court was a personal assistant to Asaram between 2001 and 2005. He was also shot at his house in May 2015 in Panipat but survived. Other three petitioners include the father of a rape victim, father of a murdered witness and a journalist, who also who allegedly escaped a murder attempt.