During the last week, Bengaluru witnessed a disturbing display of lawlessness by a group led by a son of a Congress MLA. The case involved a brawl in a Pub called “Farzi Cafe” in UB City in which another person was beaten to near death by the group.
Similarly there was another incident of VIP misbehaviour of another Congress worker sprinkling petrol and threatening destruction of a BBMP office also in the same week.
While the discussion on the incidents is outside the scope of this website, I would like to only discuss the role of “Digital Evidence” that plays an important part in both these incidents.
In both the incidents, there is video evidence and in one case the offence is an “Attempt to Murder” and in the other case it is “Threatening to commit arson and destruction of Government property”. Both are very serious offences and requires a fair trial in a Court. The evidence available would therefore be very important.
But there are unconfirmed media reports indicating that since the offenders in both cases relate to the ruling party, the Police are favouring the accused and are unlikely to pursue the case properly. In the process, there will be a possibility of destruction or manipulation of the digital evidence which is in the form of CCTV footages.
The Video in the case of threat to burn BBMP office has already gone viral and is now in the public space. Courts can take cognizance of the incident even if the Police try to suppress it.
But in the incident related to the brawl in the Pub, there are two videos one from the Farzi Cafe where the brawl first took place and the other from Mallya Hospital where the accused tried to break in perhaps to cause further hurt to the victim. Initial media reports suggest that the Farzi cafe Video has already been tampered with by the Police and will only show the victim slapping the accused and not the earlier first attack by the accused.
If the report is true, it is expected that the case will eventually not get proved in a Court of law and will be dismissed for lack of evidence. Worse still, the victim himself may be punished for attacking a respectable person who is the present accused and provoking him.
The incident highlights the importance of protecting the digital evidence which is extremely useful in such cases with CCTV cameras spread across the city and in most public establishments. Recently, Bangalore Police solved a case of harassment of a lady in the middle of the night only through the CCTV footage that was available.
But if CCTV footages become only tools of manipulation where at the discretion of the Police it would be used in certain cases and in certain other cases it would simply vanish, then the question of accountability for such CCTVs arise.
There is already an argument that installation of CCTV cameras is a threat to the Privacy of Citizens. This will only gets strengthened. The defence that it helps in “Security” falls flat because of the frequent misuse of the CCTV footage by the law enforcement to suit their political objectives.
I therefore request the Bangalore Police to make public the entire unedited version of the Farzi Cafe incident to the public in the interest of transparency in public life. The Court should also direct for such a disclosure.
I believe that Farzi Cafe owners would be having a copy of the video and unless they want to be called for taking sides in the dispute, should go public with the copy of the video in their hands. Since this Video would be relevant not only to the accused but also to the victim as well as other people who would be in the Cafe at the time of the incident, there is a “Public Interest” in the disclosure and Courts can order for the disclosure.
While some body who has the courage to face the wrath of Congress Government in Karnataka can take up the issue as a public interest litigation, the Courts also can take suo moto action if they consider the matter to be of consequence.
If however Farzi Cafe owners have deleted the evidence then they would be liable for prosecution under Section 65 of ITA 2000/8 and Section 204 of IPC for destruction of evidence. If manipulation of evidence has taken place after the Police took charge of the evidence, similar charge can be made on the police personnel also. Probably the Karnataka Human Rights Commission has the jurisdiction to investigate the matter.
It would be interesting to see how the case proceeds from here and what lessons the police and organizations like Farzi Cafe will take from the current incident on handling of CCTV footages which become “Potential Evidence” in criminal cases.
Our discussion would be incomplete without also highlighting why the recent decision on an SLP by the Supreme Court in the case of Shafhi Mohammad was called by us as an “Recipie for Corruption…” If the order is to be accepted, then the CCTV footage which the Police will produce may be argued as acceptable as evidence without a Section 65B certificate. If the decision in the Basheer case is followed at least there will be one person who will look into the evidence and certify and while doing so will consider if the evidence is trustworthy or not. This important element of check on fraudulent production of digital evidence for admission would be removed if the Safhi Mohammad decision is to be considered as valid. Fortunately this is a two member order on an SLP where as the Basheer judgement is a three member judgement and hence it would prevail.