Sunday, February 5, 2023

Delhi HC issues guidelines to get correct records of accused from state crime records bureaus

The matter came to light when an accused's record showed him involved in one crime when, in fact, he was part of three others.

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By Sangeeta Sharma

Taking note of the discrepancies in the search of previous crime records of an accused, the Delhi High Court has issued various guidelines to the State Crime Records Bureau (SCRB) across the country for management of search engines.

Dealing with a bail matter in which an accused was involved in three other heinous crimes but his record was not being shown during the court hearing, Justice Anup Jairam Bhambani of the Delhi High Court took strong objection to it and called Rajan Bhagat, DCP, Crime (CRO), Delhi Police and Inspector Shivaji Chauhan and SI Sandeep Maan from Ambedkar Nagar police station to explain the state of affairs.

The matter relates to a case in which accused Ravi Kumar alias Shooter applied for bail before the Delhi High Court on September 2, 2020. The case against him was that an FIR was filed against him on September 19, 2016 under Sections 324/34 of Indian Penal Code (voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or other means) at Ambedkar Nagar police station. Subsequently, Sections 302/307 IPC and various sections of Arms Act were added. The Accused sought regular bail to which a notice was issued to the Delhi Police on September 2, 2020. The Jail Superintendent filed a status report on October 3, 2020. Some additional documents, the MLC, death summary, post-mortem report and the statements of Prosecution witnesses Suraj and Vishal recorded earlier under Section 161 CrPC along with certain other documents in support of his bail application were also filed in the court.

Along with the bail application, the applicant also filed a copy of previous conviction/involvement report dated July 9, 2020, stated to be from the SCRB, Delhi which disclosed the applicant’s involvement in only 1 criminal case, namely the present FIR No. 556/2016. In the bail application it is stated that SCRB July 9, 2020 report is the one filed by the Investigating Officer alongwith his reply to the bail application filed before the sessions Court, which was subsequently dismissed on July 10, 2020.

The State submitted its status report on October 3, 2020 in the court also placed on record previous conviction/involvement report of the applicant, which is also from the records of the SCRB, Delhi.

It was surprising for the Judge to note that the second report disclosed that the accused was involved in a total of three criminal cases ( FIR No. 556/2016 under Sections 324/307/302/34 IPC (being the FIR in present case) as also in two other cases bearing FIR No. 342/2013 under Section 326 IPC and FIR Bail Appl. 2470/2020 No. 195/2014 under Sections 307/34 IPC, in both of which (latter), as per a handwritten notation in SCRB report dated October 3, 2020, the applicant has been acquitted.

The High Court found two different versions of the SCRB record, one of July 9, 2020 showing the applicant’s involvement in only one criminal case and another of October 3, 2020 showing the applicant’s involvement in three criminal cases.

It was further noticed that in SCRB report dated October 3, 2020 in the column for ‘Status (Period/Fine Amount)’ against the 02 other FIRs, the words “Acquitted on June 06, 2018” and “Acquitted on September 14, 2015” were noted in handwriting, though the rest of the report was a print-out taken from the SCRB database.

Noticing this inter se discrepancy as between the SCRB reports of July 9, 2020 and October 3, 2020, the court directed the Director, SCRB to furnish a written explanation as regards the said discrepancy.

The explanation was furnished on November 02, 2020 vidé reply/explanation under signatures of Rajan Bhagat, DCP, Crime (CRO) Delhi.

On November 27, 2020, Justice held a video-conference hearing in which Inspector Shivaji Chauhan, who is heading the maintenance of the SCRB database in Delhi explained that the discrepancies in the two reports, both from the SCRB database, arise from the fact that these report can be generated by an Investigating officer from its web-portal/database by keying-in certain search parameters. If the search parameters keyed-in are different or incomplete, it leads to generating discrepant or inaccurate SCRB reports. Inspector Chauhan further explained that there are four parameters or search criteria using which the SCRB database can be searched, which are -the person’s name, father’s name, address and alias.

It is pointed out that in SCRB’s July 9, 2020 report the ‘Search Parameters Entered by User’ were %Ravi%, Ishwar and Dakshin, being the name, father’s name and the first word of the colony Dakshin Puri where the applicant is stated to reside .

On the other hand, the ‘Search Parameters Entered by User’ in SCRB report dated October 3, 2020 were only ravi and DAKSHIN . The court noted that the another copy of the applicant’s SCRB report dated October 22, 2020 has come to be filed along with reply/explanation dated November 02, 2020 by the SCRB itself, which also shows three criminal Involvements. It is noticed that in this last SCRB report dated October 22, 2020, the ‘Search Parameters Entered by User’are : “RAVI” “ISHWAR DUTT”and “DAKSHINPURI” with the wildcard sign (%) interspersed within the words to include within those words their alternate spellings.

The High Court said, what is noticed from the foregoing three SCRB reports is that report of October 3, 2020 where the applicant’s father’s name was not even included in the search parameters gave a more detailed result showing all three cases in which the applicant was implicated, whereas SCRB report of July 9, 2020 which was based upon all three search parameters showed only one such case. It is also noticed that SCRB report of October 22, 2020, produced by the SCRB itself, which used the wildcard sign (%) at all points of the search parameters for a comprehensive search, threw-up the three cases in which the applicant was implicated. What is also significant is that in all the three SCRB reports, the updated status of the cases against the applicant, in two of which he was acquitted as far back in 2015 and 2018, are not disclosed.

“It requires no emphasis that an accurate and credible SCRB report is of vital significance to proceedings before any criminal court. SCRB reports presented before a court, whether in the course of bail proceedings or trial or in any other matter, are taken to be authentic, credible and are presumed to reflect the up to-date position of all criminal involvements of any accused/convict. The court ordinarily considers such reports as sacred. If therefore, as in the present case, it is found that reports generated from the SCRB database are even inter se discrepant, it shakes the confidence of the court and leaves it wondering if it can rely blindly on the SCRB reports produced before it. This is certainly not a desirable state of affairs,”

-the court said.

The court further said, “It was in this backdrop that the issue of credibility of SCRB reports produced before the court was taken-up in the present bail proceedings.” To further explain the aforesaid discrepancies, in compliance of order dated December 08, 2020, the SCRB has filed a supplementary status report on December 16, 2020 giving details of the existing system of maintaining records of accused/convicts at police stations, at the SCRB as also on the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System platform.

In his status report, DCP Rajan Bhagat explained how crime records are maintained. According to Bhagat, the records of criminal involvement are maintained in the Village Crime Register/Note Book, which is Register No. IX (Register No. 9) kept at every police station as per the provisions of the Punjab Police Rules 1934 (cf. Rule 22.59). These records are maintained at the police station where an FIR is registered against an accused as also in the police station where the accused has his permanent and present place of residence. In addition, the Investigating Officers also prepare dossiers of persons implicated in certain categories of offences, which are now also maintained on-line. There is also the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System (CCTNS) which is part of and is accessed through the Core Application Software (CAS) Database, which is operated by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)/SCRB, in which records obtained from the prosecution branch are available, including as per the provisions of the Identification of Prisoners Act 1920, Bhagat said.

There is the Criminal Attributes Database (CADB) which contains fingerprint records cross-referenced and linked with other particulars, including name, parentage and address of persons involved in crimes, which is maintained by the Central Finger Print Bureau (CPFB). Since any text based search cannot trace criminal involvement of the same person arrested with different names/identities, the solution to this problem is the digitized finger printing system, which is available through the Criminal Remote Identification System (CRIS) and the Automated Fingerprint and Palm-print Identification System (AFPIS), which provide biometric identification of persons; and it is submitted that every police station has been provided with a single digit scanner to effect a query against the fingerprints database, Bhagat said.

The Court noted that obviously there are glitches in the system relating to the results being generated on entering search parameters. Further, none of the reports contained the updated information about the status of the previous cases against the accused in which he stood acquitted.

The matter regarding discrepancy in SCRB reports is of vital importance since they are widely relied upon by the courts in dispensation of criminal justice relating to life and liberties of individuals as well as well-being of the society in general. Further, these reports are often accepted at face value as they are deemed to be correct unless otherwise shown.

Bhagat told that there is also the Crime Criminal Information System (CCIS) in which crime records were maintained earlier, but updation of its database has now been discontinued in a phased manner.

This database however still contains old records and may therefore be accessed to obtain archival records relating to persons.

Bhagat submitted that a thorough search of criminal involvement is available from the web-portal, which gives to an Investigating Officer access to the above Five databases.

Bhagat submits however that since there are inadequacies in the system, a project is also underway to maintain a complete, comprehensive and updated status of every case pending against a person in court (including status of bail, conviction, acquittal or discharge), through what is called the Interoperable Criminal Justice System (ICJS) project, which is being developed for Delhi by the National Informatics Centre (NIC) under the aegis and supervision of the E-Committee of the Delhi High Court. The purpose of the ICJS is to collate comprehensive and updated information in relation to a person from all concerned wings of the justice system, namely the police, prosecution branch, prisons as well as the courts, all available on a common web platform, which system is at the final stages of testing, completion and deployment.

Bhagat submitted that the ICJS platform is already functional except that the process of integrating and updating the CCTNS with the data from the Court Information System (CIS), which (latter) contains the updated status of court proceedings inter alia in respect of criminal matters, is still underway to make the ICJS platform complete, comprehensive and updated.

Bhagat further points out that pursuant to certain observations made by this court in BAIL APPL. 1057/2020 titled Kunwar Manoj Bhatia @ Bunty vs. State of NCT of Delhi, directions have already been issued by the Special Commissioner of Police on July 17, 2020 to all Investigating Officers to follow a certain procedure to update the involvement sheet of accused/convicts before filing it in judicial proceedings, in the following terms:

“It is hereby ordered that henceforth, the Investigation officers shall follow the following procedure to update involvement sheet of criminals before using especially for filing it before Hon’ble Courts in Judicial Proceedings- a.Check/verify involvement/status from ICJS i.e. (Credentials created and staff trained in all PSs). b.Check/verify information from concerned Police Station records, if not traced above. DCsP of the districts/units as well as other supervisory officer shall ensure that all the Investigation Officers shall submit Involvement Sheet with latest update of status column against each criminal involvement. They may also be advice to update the status in the source application CCTNS, CCIS, Dossier, etc. for future reference.”

Bhagat submitted that the ICJS will afford single-platform availability of all updated information in relation to an accused/ convict, drawing from all databases as explained above; but in the meantime, the result of the search conducted by an Investigating Officer and the efficient use of the existing systems is completely dependent on the caliber and intelligence of the Investigating Officer and the result depends on the search parameters/text entered.

Despite the foregoing communication from the Special Commissioner however, it is seen that the SCRB reports filed in this matter are far from accurate or complete.

The Court said that certain directions should be followed for preparation of SCRB Reports.

The court said, on the basis of the submissions made by Bhagat , and till the ICJS system gets fully operational and police officers are trained in its efficient use, to ensure completeness, accuracy and credibility of SCRB reports furnished in any proceedings, it is directed that the following steps must be taken by an Investigating Officer or other police official before presenting any report before the court.

i) When searching the criminal involvement/record of any person, the concerned police officer shall accurately enter the full name of the person, the parentage, the alias as also the full address as per an official identification document, such as Driver’s License, Passport, PAN Card, Aadhaar Card or if no such document is available, then as disclosed by the person, ensuring that the wildcard sign (%)(Alternatively referred to as a wild character or wildcard character, a wildcard is a symbol used to replace or represent one or more characters) is appropriately used in the search to account for commonly used alternate spellings of any of these particulars.

ii) The particulars so entered shall be searched against each of the following databases : (i) Crime Criminal Information System (CCIS) database; (ii) On-line Criminal Dossier database maintained by the police; (iii) Criminal Attributes Database (CADB); (iv) CCTNS Database/Core Application Software (CAS) Database; (v) Register No.IX (Register No. 9) maintained at police stations; and (vi) Interoperable Criminal Justice System

iii) If any element of information in relation to a person or in relation to a particular FIR is not complete, say the status of a bail application or current stage of a pending trial, the Investigating Officer shall obtain such updated status from the concerned police station, prison or court; and file an additional information sheet separately signed by him indicating such updated status, without making any interpolations in the SCRB report generated from the aforesaid databases.

iv) Before an SCRB report is filed in any court, the SHO of the concerned police station shall counter-sign the SCRB report and the additional information sheet, if any, confirming that the procedures set-out above have been followed by the Investigating Officer in preparing such report; and

v) The foregoing procedures shall be incorporated as part of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to be followed by all Investigating Officers in all cases and circulated by the Special Commissioner of Police (Crime), Delhi to all police stations within the NCT of Delhi.

Advocate Prashant Mehndiratta, appearing for the accused, said, “The directions followed after the Court was confronted with different reports of crime history of an individual in jail on the accusation of murder reported to the Delhi Police in 2016. This is a very welcome order and will go a long way in improving the dispensation of criminal justice in India.” The State Crime Records Bureau maintains the records of history of crimes pertaining to individuals in a state.

Dr Manoj Kumar, Founder and Managing Partner of Hammurabi & Solomon Partners, said that lack of transparency and accountability of police working in the criminal justice system must never be allowed at any stage. The Delhi High Court’s directions will help not only Courts relying on criminal records but also litigants who approach the courts for justice and relief.

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