As many as 92 former bureaucrats on Friday condemned the “perversion of criminal justice” by investigative agencies. The Constitutional Conduct Group, a group of former civil servants belonging to the All India and Central Services, released a statement.
“The reports that the police and other investigative agencies may have violated constitutional guarantees and judicial pronouncements in the practices adopted in search and seizure operations, as well as the possibility that they may have been party to planting incriminating material in personal digital devices and harvesting evidence therefrom, have caused us grave concern,” the statement said.
The signatories said that blatant illegal practices could be the “death knell” for India’s criminal justice. “Recent reports of false evidence being planted remotely in the personal computer of one of the accused in a long-dragging sedition case are alarming,” the statement said. “It is entirely possible that a similar situation is prevalent with regard to the evidence being used in many other UAPA [Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act] cases.”
The group noted inefficient handling of digital evidence, and said that for justice to prevail the capabilities of existing surveillance and spyware technology “must be circumscribed by strict, meaningful and enforceable statutory safeguards” in investigating agencies.
The signatories demanded that urgent legislative changes should be implemented to guide the agencies in adherence to the principles of the right to privacy, against self-incrimination, protection of privileged communication, integrity of electronic evidence, and maintaining privacy.
“We, therefore, urge the Government of India to make necessary legislative changes on the above lines to prevent planting of incriminating material and false evidence in personal digital devices and lay down the overall practice and procedure of handling electronic evidence in a manner that will protect privacy, privileged communications, the right against self-incrimination and the integrity of the evidence and ensure complete transparency in order to ensure the constitutional guarantees of rendering justice to all,” the statement said.
Key evidence against a group of activists and intellectuals, who have been arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case, was planted using a malware on a laptop seized by police, a forensics report found in February. The report revealed that an attacker used malware to infiltrate a laptop belonging to activist Rona Wilson before his arrest and deposited at least 10 incriminating letters on his computer. The Pune Police used letters it found on the laptop as its primary evidence in the chargesheet they filed in the Bhima Koregaon case. Wilson has moved the Bombay High Court.
In February, human rights activist Stan Swamy, who was arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case in October, had said that he had informed the National Investigation Agency at least four times that fake evidence had been planted on his computer. Swamy also said that the documents might have been “intercalated”.
In the Delhi violence case, on July 24, a court in Delhi had said the police had failed to produce video evidence against those accused of conspiracy in the large-scale violence. “The police seems to be in a state of inscrutable insolence in collection of relevant video footage,” the court had said.
In December, National Conference leaders Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah claimed there was no justification for the attachment of properties worth Rs 11.86 crore in connection with the alleged financial irregularities in the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association. Omar Abdullah had said that it had failed “the very basic test of having been acquired as the proceeds of the ‘crime’ being investigated”.
After the raids at the Delhi office of news website Newsclick, the organisation said that the operation went on for days and some equipment important to their functioning was seized.