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Government submits to HC draft of proposed act on witness protection

The Maharashtra government submitted to the Bombay High Court a draft of a proposed act which provides for giving security cover to witnesses in criminal cases.

This was in response to a public interest litigation. The court had suo motu converted a media report on the murder of Pune-based RTI activist Satish Shetty into a PIL.

Accepting the draft of the “Maharashtra Witness Protection Act 2015, the bench comprising justices Abhay Oka and G S Patel invited the opinion of the amicus curiae D D Madon who said the Act covers only witnesses and not RTI activists and whistle-blowers.

Madon suggested that the Act should also cover these two categories, besides witnesses.

Government pleader Nitin Deshpande informed that the State had decided to extend the scope of the Act to cover these categories, namely RTI activists and whistle-blowers.

The amicus curaie said that the power to give witnesses protection had been conferred upon the investigating agencies.

Additionally, the powers to grant such protection should be extended to the presiding judges, he suggested.

The government pleader replied that the State would consider this suggestion. However, as a note of caution, he said that in case the order of granting witness protection is challenged in a higher court, the possibility of trial being stalled during the pendency of such litigation cannot be ruled out.

Madon further said that the proposed Act is applicable to cases in which offences are punishable with life or death sentences. This, he said, should be extended to all cases.

The government pleader replied that the proposed Act gives security cover to witnesses in cases of serious offences.

However, the government would have to take note of the availability of police force, budgetary provisions etc if it is required to extend the Act to all the criminal cases.

The bench observed that the proposed Act gives protection to witnesses only and not to investigating officers.

To this, Madon responded that the definition of “witnesses” is wide enough to include police witnesses.

The government pleader also joined him in saying that the proposed Act can be extended to police witnesses as well.

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