In three separate orders in a span of less than two weeks in August, a judge in Delhi made stinging remarks about the Delhi Police’s investigation into the riots that convulsed Delhi in February 2020.

Communal rioting had broken out between the supporters of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and those opposing the law in North East Delhi that year. The violence claimed 53 lives and hundreds were injured. The majority of those killed were Muslims.

Additional Sessions Judge Pulastya Pramachala, in an order reported on August 28, accused the Delhi police of “befooling” the court by relying on a video for evidence when such a video did not exist.

On August 24, Pramachala acquitted a Muslim man accused in a case of violence associated with the riots, holding that the police had made “artificial statements” against him. The court concluded that the police had filed its chargesheet in a “mechanical manner without actually investigating the incidents properly”.

On August 16, Pramachala discharged three Muslim men accused of rioting. He expressed suspicion that the investigating officer had manipulated evidence. The court said that the police chargesheet had been filed in a “predetermined, mechanical and erroneous manner”.

This is merely a sample of a string of orders by courts in Delhi adjudicating on matters relating to the riots. Some more such orders faulting the Delhi Police for planting false evidence in which the court discharged or acquitted or gave bail to those accused of violence are revisited below.

They raise uncomfortable questions about what appears to be the institutional targeting of Muslims by relying on fabricated evidence.

Poor track record

On May 30, Metropolitan Magistrate Shirish Aggarwal, while acquitting another Muslim man, had said this with regard to a head constable, who was a witness in the matter: “It appears that his statement was procured and prepared falsely and belatedly to solve this case. … the police was already aware that its case was fabricated…”

On September 20 last year, Pramachala acquitted a Muslim man after observing that his being identified was an “outcome of an afterthought development” by the police. The acquittal was partly based on the contradictory statements of the investigation officer.

In October 2021, Additional Sessions Judge Vinod Yadav had held that one of the Delhi Police witnesses in a case related to the riots had been lying on oath.

In September 2021, Yadav had noted that the Delhi Police had failed both to conduct a fair investigation or to ensure justice to the victims in cases related to the riots. He added in an order discharging three Muslims that “the investigating agency has merely tried to pull the wool over the court’s eyes”. Further, he had expressed suspicion that a constable – a witness in the case – had been “planted”.

Scroll had reported that in at least seven orders in 2020 and 2021, Delhi courts had questioned the credibility of witness statements. In four of these orders, the witnesses were police personnel.

In some case, the witness statements recorded by the Delhi Police were identical, raising doubts about their veracity, Scroll had reported. Scroll also found that some witnesses had alleged that they were abused, threatened and coerced into giving false statements by the police.

In October 2020, the Delhi High Court granted bail to a Muslim man on the grounds that the two police “witnesses seemed to be planted”.

These are in addition to and distinct from the several other orders passed by Delhi courts over the last three years criticising the lackadaisical manner of the Delhi Police’s investigation into the riots (such as this one and this one).

A photo from a violence-hit locality in Delhi on February 25, 2020. | PTI

Is giving false evidence unlawful?

Chapter XI of the Indian Penal Code lays down offences relating to “false evidence and offences against public justice”. Provisions in this chapter criminalise the creation and use of false evidence, making false claims in court, and falsely charging someone with an offence in order to injure, among other things.

Depending on the severity of the offence, the punishment ranges between three years’ imprisonment to life imprisonment, and even the death penalty.

Despite the Delhi Police being pulled up for lying and presenting fabricated evidence before the courts for the last three years, its officers have not faced any repercussions for patently unlawful acts as per the Indian Penal Code.

Why is there no accountability for the Delhi Police?

Last week, Article 14 reported about the challenges of prosecuting the police for perjury, or lying under oath.

The Indian court system, the Supreme Court has lamented on numerous occasions, is rife with fabricated evidence being used. The judiciary finds itself helpless to tackle this.

The Kerala High Court admitted so in March, when it held that it was “impractical” for courts to prosecute every case of perjury, as it would have no time for other matters.

A further obstacle is provided by the complicated process prescribed by the Code of Criminal Procedure for prosecution of offences under Chapter XI of the Indian Penal Code. As part of this, courts have to conduct preliminary inquiries into whether a complaint for such an offence is merited. Proceedings to try such offences are to be conducted separately from the main trial in which the allegedly false evidence was furnished.

This adds to the already overflowing workload of courts.

Both the Supreme Court and the Law Commission of India have recommended that the Union government frame a policy to provide compensation for anyone falsely implicated in a criminal matter. However, the government is yet to act on it. Hence, those booked under trumped up charges by the Delhi Police have no legal recourse to seek monetary compensation for their suffering and loss of time, money, reputation and liberty.