Hostile witnesses nip charas trails into acquittals at court

Shimla: Even though prosecutors have been able to nail many narcotic dealers in the chara’s rich Kullu valley recently but quite a few cases are falling through in court because of civilian witnesses turning hostile leading to acquittals.

“The loopholes that were being exploited by witnesses turning hostile have been tightened, says HS Rana, director prosecution.To make his point he dished out data showing that of the 71 cases under NDPS (Narcotic Drugs and Psychotic Drugs Act) decided by the courts in Kullu there were as many as 35 (49%) convictions , while the 36 others were acquitted.

Sources at the district attorney’s office in Kullu disclosed that invariably most civilian witnesses in NDPS cases turn hostile in court.“What’s even more shocking,” said a prosecutor on conditions of anonymity, “even politicians were contacting investigating police officers and recommending names of people who could be included as witnesses in drug haul cases.”

The modus operandi is said to be that the prosecution witness would strike a deal with the NDPS accused for turning hostile in court, which would weaken the case and ultimately acquit him.

After the High Court started reviewing NDPS cases, says Rana, at least three conferences on the subject have been held in which included judicial officers, police and prosecutors participated and the conviction rate has started improving.

Of the 38 NDPS cases decided in 2007 at Kullu courts, there were 22 (42%) convictions, in 2008 of the 59 cases decided, 33 (56%) were convicted and in 2009, convictions dropped to 13 (37%) of the 35 cases decided while the others were acquitted, said the director prosecution. Witnesses having turned hostile are said to have contributed to a large number of these acquittals.

With about 25 percent of the country’s charas trade originating from Himachal, the largest number of cases are registered in Mandi and Kullu courts given that the valley is famed for its Malana Cream charas that is counted among the best in the world.

“Among those convicted in the contraband trade are foreigners,” says ID Bhandari, ADGP crime, especially in Manali and Manikaran valley’s. He said “there were at least 22 foreigners languishing in jails of Himachal who have been convicted under NDPS act over the years.”

With a catch of 693 Kgs of Charas and 35.64 Kgs of opium in 2010 and having registered 593 cases, the top crime officer confessed that due to sheer logistics of the narcotic crops being grown in hard to access alpine pastures and forest lands, police was able to intercept only about 15 percent of contraband trade.

As Editor, Ravinder Makhaik leads a team of media professionals at Hill Post. Spanning a career of over two decades in mass communication, as a Documentary Filmmaker, TV journalist, Print Media journalist and with Online & Social Media, he brings with him a vast experience. He lives in Shimla.

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