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Commentary/Vir Sanghvi

If a cop has planted evidence all his life to win cases, then why shouldn't he plant evidence to save his skin?

This column is about the encounter in which the Delhi police murdered two innocent people in cold blood. The murders raise many issues, none of which seems to have been satisfactorily addressed.

The first issue is the behaviour of the Delhi police after the incident. They have offered two explanations. Explanation one is it was a genuine mistake -- the cops really thought the two were gangsters.

Explanation two is these innocent businessmen just happened to keep a loaded pistol in the car on the off-chance that a Delhi police party might turn up and try to murder them. When this eventuality did in fact occur, the traders miraculously transformed themselves into sharp-shooters and opened fire on the brave cops who had no alternative but to murder them on the spot.

As any fool can see, these explanations are obviously contradictory. If this is the best the police can do by way of an excuse, then it is no surprise innocent people get murdered -- obviously the level of intelligence is not very high.

But in the general outrage over the murders, we have lost sight of two significant issues.

The first is the nonchalance with which the police planted a gun on the dead men. Given the abundance of witnesses and the circumstances for the murder, it is impossible to claim the police party acted in self-defence. And yet, a senior official of the level of assistant commissioner is sticking to this story. A gun has been procured from somewhere and the official position of the Delhi police is the dead men were not only armed but also opened fire.

If you are shocked by the blatant falsehood, by the readiness of the police to plant evidence, don't be: it happens everyday.

I have this on good authority. Four months ago, Vijay Karan, one of Delhi's most respected former police commissioners (and a former Central Bureau of Investigation director) told me on national television the system had now got so rotten that the police routinely planted evidence.

Suppose a murder has been committed. The police will decide who the murderer is and will then go about manufacturing a case. If the victim had been stabbed, they will plant a knife. Suppose some jewellery has been stolen. Even if the police catch the thief and find out who he sold the ornaments to, they still have a problem: the buyer has usually melted the pieces down. So they will ask a jeweller to make new jewellery, identical to the stuff that was stolen and will then claim in court they recovered the jewellery before it had been melted down.

Karan's intention was not to run down his old force. He claimed the legal system was such it took too long for cases to come to trial, and the standard of proof demanded was much too high. The police had no hope of securing a conviction unless they resorted to fabricating evidence.

Karan insisted the police only manufactured evidence to implicate the guilty, not the innocent. But this is a fine distinction. Who decides who is guilty? A constable? A sub-inspector? A trigger-happy murderer who hopes to be promoted by shooting people at traffic lights?

The point is once you allow policemen to believe that it is perfectly acceptable to fabricate and plant evidence, you are destroying the integrity of the system.

If a cop has planted evidence all his life to win cases, then why should not he plant evidence to save his own skin?

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