A problem of trust: Repeated failures of the state system leading to parallel probes

By: |
March 1, 2021 7:00 AM

There are many instances of investigations/trials, and even tax demands, falling flat because of shoddy work by the state’s arms.

However, the Centre and the states—and their various agencies—only have themselves to blame for this “parallel judicial system” thriving.However, the Centre and the states—and their various agencies—only have themselves to blame for this “parallel judicial system” thriving.

The Centre is right in telling the Delhi High Court that there shouldn’t be any “parallel judicial systems”—this was in the context of the HC seeking the Centre’s response over a petition challenging the reports of fact-finding bodies set up both inside and outside the statal structure to look into the riots in Delhi last year. One of the reports is by a committee set up by the Delhi Minorities Commission (DMC); while the Centre has acknowledged the fact that the DMC is a statutory body and that the court could ask for its report, it has said that various “tribunals” come up after incidents and record versions and statements from witnesses, but these make for a parallel judicial syste, and such fact-finding committees should not be allowed. Instead, it told the court, those with grievances must approach a competent court. It said that the petition challenging the reports merited examination by the court. There is no doubt that, many times, such fact-finding bodies, especially those formed along lines of interest in a conflict, add to confusion instead of helping sort out things. Also, in polarised times, such fact-finding reports lend themselves to weaponisation in the narrative war. However, the Centre and the states—and their various agencies—only have themselves to blame for this “parallel judicial system” thriving.

There are many instances of investigations/trials, and even tax demands, falling flat because of shoddy work by the state’s arms. The recent order of the Delhi High Court granting bail to climate activist Disha Ravi noted that evidence put up by the Delhi Police to oppose the bail was “scanty and sketchy”, dwelling on “bare assertions” in a particular context. Last year, a Delhi court pulled up the Delhi Police for “lack of evidence” and even “contradictory” statements by its own witnesses—highlighting glaring discrepancies in the testimony of a police officer—while acquitting 36 foreign nationals arrested in the Tablighi case. These are individual examples, but the problem is systemic, cutting across jurisdictions and departments. As per the National Crime Records Bureau, while 96 persons were arrested for sedition in 2019, 76 were charge-sheeted; only 2 were convicted and 29 acquitted. Cases are likely pending against the rest, but the success rate in the concluded trials really shows up the state’s efficiency in investigation and prosecution. Similarly, while the Economic Survey 2018 pointed out that the income tax department “unambiguously” loses 65% of its cases, a CAG report from 2019 showed that in FY18, there were 3 lakh cases pending at the CIT (Appeals) level with `5.2 lakh crore in tax demand locked in them, but the taxman had told the central auditor that it is difficult to recover 98.2% of the disputed amount. The fact that the disputed tax demand amount had reached `11 lakh crore-plus in FY19—against `4.1 lakh crore in FY14—can only be an indicator of the brazenness of the system that continues to raise demands despite knowing that it can’t back these up. When probes by the state’s agencies and arms fail too often, and by wide margins, trust in their efficiency decays. This creates conditions for parallel ‘judicial (investigative)’ systems to thrive, even if the result may sometimes be babel.

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