Framing of charges begins in riots cases, arson is most dropped section

The court of Additional Sessions Judge Vinod Yadav, one of the two at Karkardooma exclusively hearing riot cases, has received over 179 cases for trial and framed charges in 57.

From charges of arson not holding up to CCTV footage from one case being relied on for another — a look at court orders in several riots cases points to some similarities in how proceedings are playing out.

The court of Additional Sessions Judge Vinod Yadav, one of the two at Karkardooma exclusively hearing riot cases, has received over 179 cases for trial and framed charges in 57. The Indian Express accessed 27 orders in which charges have been framed by ASJ Yadav’s court this year.

Key section dropped

A look at the court orders reveals that IPC Section 436 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy house) is the most dropped section. It carries a sentence of life imprisonment and a fine.

Out of the 27 court orders, the section of arson has been dropped in 12. In many of these cases, a police witness made the allegation of arson, which was junked by the court stating that this section “cannot be invoked merely” on the basis of police witnesses.

The court also noted in multiple cases that “police were trying to cover up a flaw” in the investigation by introducing a supplementary statement of a complainant stating that he witnessed an arson incident, despite the fact that they “did not utter a single word” regarding arson in their previous statement.

In some cases, the court pulled up police for clubbing incidents from different dates. For instance, on September 22, the court dropped the arson section against 10 persons, noting that police had clubbed incidents.

In 15 cases, the court framed charges of arson only when the complainant in their statement said that arson took place.

In a handful of cases, police produced CCTV footage of burning motorcycles to make their case. However, the court dropped the section as vehicles are not covered under it.

A senior official from the prosecution department said, “There have been some lapses in investigation in arson cases. The officers in charge were overburdened with multiple cases and sometimes did not have a legal understanding of the section… There has to be a legally trained mind looking at these cases at the stage of registration of FIR… Whether this was a lapse on our part or if it was malafide is the question.”

CCTV footage

In several cases, police have relied on CCTV footage of one incident of rioting to implicate the accused in a different case.

In 16 orders, it was found that police had arrested the accused on the basis of CCTV footage of a separate case. In 11 cases, police have not been able to produce footage. The court said the question of whether the accused can be arrested on the basis of CCTV footage of another case will be decided during trial.

In cases where there was no footage, the court agreed with the prosecution that “virtually every CCTV camera was broken” during the riots.

In some cases, police relied on ocular testimonies to bolster their case. In one case, for instance, the court agreed with the defence counsel that the police witness in an arson case was 3 km away from the incident. But since there was an independent witness statement, it lent its weight to the case and charges were framed against the accused.

Senior Advocate Rebecca John flagged an issue with this approach, “In many cases, there has been an attempt to rope in as many people as possible. Criminal law is all about fixing liability. They have arrested people on the basis of CCTV footage in other cases. The people may be residents of that area, sharing their anxieties or talking amongst themselves, and it is not indicative of their participation in the riots. The courts have been asking these questions to the police, and they do not have answers.”

However, the prosecution department official said, “Police had established that the accused was present at one spot through CCTV; and through oral testimony, we have placed the accused in the other spot. The burden to show proof that the accused was not present at the spot is on him, not me. Not having CCTV of one spot does not make it a bad case.”

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