Records of a 1987 murder case which went missing in 1999 and has since remained untraceable, invited strong reactions from the Jharkhand High Court which termed it “a very serious issue which demands utmost attention and action”.
A single-judge Bench of Justice Ananda Sen took exception to the nonchalant manner in which concerned officials, who were tasked with looking into the issue, went about their job.
“Missing of a judicial record is a very serious issue which demands utmost attention and action. Here the same has been handled in a very light manner casually by all concerned,” the Court said.
It, therefore, proceeded to set up a one-man fact-finding committee headed by Retired Principal District & Sessions Judge, GK Roy to enquire into the matter.
The Court was hearing a plea which prayed for a direction to the court below to dispose of a case registered in 1987. The plea was filed in the light of the fact that the trial court could not proceed with the matter since case records were not traceable since 1999.
The petitioner in the case was accused of offences under Sections 147, 148, 149, 307, 302 of the Indian Penal Code and Section 27 of the Arms Act. Moreover, several criminal cases had earlier been registered against him and he had also been convicted in several cases.
The Court, while acting on the said petition had called for a report from the Judicial Commissioner, Ranchi way back in 2015.
Subsequently, the Court went on to send many reminders to the Judicial Commissioner, but it was only in July 2016 that a report was submitted by him. The report informed the Court that the records of the aforesaid case were missing and had not been traced till date.
Moreover, the Court was informed that a Committee had been constituted to prepare a list of uncared records and steps were being taken for reconstruction of the missing record of the petitioner’s case.
In November 2020, considering the seriousness of the issues at hand, the Principal Judicial Commissioner, Ranchi was directed to send a report indicating the following: –
(i) What steps have been taken to reconstruct the record and the present status.
(ii) What steps have been taken in relation to the case record, which has been lost; whether any First Information Report has been registered and/or any proceeding has been initiated against the custodian of the record.
In response to the same, the Bench was told that the case records could not be reconstructed till date due to non-availability of authentic documents.
Moreover, no response was provided when the Court asked whether or not any First Information Report was lodged, or any proceedings were initiated against the custodian of the record.
The Court, therefore, proceeded to berate the officials in very strong words.
“This is the seriousness shown by the concerned officials in relation to this grave issue. The judicial record of an accused who has number of cases registered against him and is also convicted in number of cases and is on bail in this particular case, goes missing and for the last 20 years nothing serious has been done either to get the record constructed or to take appropriate action against the persons/officials for whose laches the record got lost,” the order said.
Justice Sen added that a sorry state of affairs was apparent from the report of the Principal Judicial Commissioner, Ranchi, wherein he had mentioned that a Committee for searching missing records was functioning in his judgeship, but the Committee has not reported till date regarding missing of the case records of the petitioner.
“If that be so, this Court fails to understand as to what is that Committee was doing. Is that Committee functional solely on pen and paper? If a Committee is not functioning and performing, the Committee must be scrapped,” the Court said not mincing its words.
With these observations, the High Court constituted a one-man fact-finding committee to make an inquiry into the matter after taking statements of all concerned in respect of missing case records and furnish a report as to how the records went missing and why till date even after a lapse of 20 years, the records have not yet been reconstructed.
“The Committee will also report on the aspect for whose fault and as to why it took such a long time and that too only on the direction of this Court after filing of this criminal writ application things started moving that too, in a snail’s pace (even a snail pace is faster). All the persons, who are involved in the process and are at fault, will be highlighted in the report of the one-man fact-finding committee”, the order added.
The committee has been asked to inform as to why the carbon copy of the case diary was not handed over to the court below and who are the persons responsible. Further, the report should also examine why FIR was not registered and why departmental proceedings were not initiated against the persons responsible.
The Principal Judicial Commissioner, Ranchi and the Senior Superintendent of Police, Ranchi have been directed to provide all sorts of assistance and help to the committee, so that a report can be submitted, preferably within 45 days in a sealed cover.
The Principal Judicial Commissioner, Ranchi has also been asked to immediately get an FIR lodged against the persons responsible and report to the Court immediately.