Destroying the evidence: time-tested tactic that protects powerful perpetrators

Published on: February 11, 2016

Kin of the victims of the Hashimpura massacre in Meerut                                  Zakia Jafri

Nine years after the massacre of young Muslims in Hashimpura, allegedly by the members of the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC), in arguably India’s largest incident of custodial killing, where officers of the notorious Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) shot dead 42 persons from the Muslim community, crucial evidence was destroyed. Acquittals resulted in 2015, 28 years after the incident; the trial court made sharp observations about the  deliberately lackadaisical and shoddy investigation. The UP Sessions Court acquitted all the 16 accused despite firsthand accounts from survivors of the incident. The judgment had raised, among other things, critical and serious questions about the efficacy of our state institutions in dealing with cases involving minorities. 

Nine days ago, on February 2, 2016,The Hindu reported that the Uttar Pradesh police destroyed documents that could have helped to prove the involvement of the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) personnel in the Hashimpura massacre of 1987, even while the trial was still pending. A letter written by the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) of Meerut, a copy of which is with The Hindu, reportedly shows the documents were “weeded out” on April 1, 2006." In the letter to the Crime Branch of the State Crime Investigation Department (CID), the SSP said it was now impossible to make available documents related to the deployment of the PAC personnel on the day that the massacre was allegedly carried out. The matter was being heard in a Tis Hazari court at time the documents were destroyed.  The letter gave no reason for the documents being weeded out. 

Tampering with evidence and Destruction of Evidence is a Violation of Indian criminal law. Rarely however do, investigating agencies responsible technically for bringing perpetrators to book, ever, in charge sheets prosecute those who are responsible for the destruction and tampering with evidence.

The law on destruction of records and tampering with evidence is succinct. Section 204 of the Indian Penal Code deals specifically with the crime of ‘destruction of document or electronic record’ to prevent its production as evidence. The Gujarat Police Manual is even more pointed, making those officers liable to be penalised for the criminal act(s).
Documents have disappeared and there is evidence of tampering of evidence by the very agencies involved in preliminary investigations,  related to the 2002 carnage in Gujarat.  Even while the Supreme Court was taking cognisance of the petition by several legal rights groups, including the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) filed before the Supreme Court on May 2, 2002, the Gujarat Government had no qualms about destroying records related to the critical period.

What were the kind of records that vanished?
Original Police Control Room & Vehicle Log Books of Senior Officials and Public Servants, Wireless Intercepted Messaged, Confidential Reports (all of which would have been critical to assess the real time response of senior and ground level officials of the police and administration to the incidents of widespread Violence were among other critical documents that were destroyed, according to admissions by the Government of Gujarat. These records were destroyed (according to the investigation documents accessed in the Zakia Jafri case) on March 31, 2008. The SIT under RK Raghavan had been appointed only five days before these acts of destruction on March 26, 2008 !

There is more. On January 17, 2007, while serious matters related to allegations of faulty investigation were pending before the Supreme Court, according to letter by Joint Commissioner of Police (CP), Sector II, G.K. Parmar given in the course of the hearing of the Gulberg trial, on an application made for further investigation by the victims and witnesses, he has stated (and this on the record of the trial court hearing the matter) that “as the final date of preserving the copies of the control room… January 2000 to December 2005 is passed....these documents...have been destroyed on January 17, 2007”.