At the backdrop of the incessant and prolonged agitations that has wreaked havoc to the normalcy and peace in the state, the most debated and discussed issue at present is on whether a confession to membership of a proscribed group or picture is reason enough for an individual to be awarded legal punishment or declared legal offender? Perhaps a Supreme Court ruling on Arup Bhuyan Vs State of Assam made on 3 February 2011 could shed more light and help to settle the matter better. In the particular case, a TADA court awarded imprisonment to Arup Bhuyan on the premise of his confession of being a member of the proscribed group ULFA. The accused filed an appeal against the judgment at the apex court. In its ruling, the apex court states that the appellant has been accused of being a member of a proscribed armed group and the only evidence submitted by the prosecution was the confession made in front of the Superintendant of Police. According to the Evidence Act. 1872 (Section 25), a confession made in front of a police officer cannot be used as an evidence, whereas according to the Prevention Act. 1987 under TADA (Section 15), the very same confession is admissible as evidence.
The apex court continues thus:- Confessions are in itself a very weak for of evidence. Various unlawful methods are known to be deployed to elicit confessions in India, including but not limited to third –degree methods. Courts should, therefore be wary of admitting confessions given by the accused to the police. It is unfortunate that unlike the policemen in the western countries equipped with modern gadgets and instruments along with well-trained investigating force to carry out scientific investigation, the police force in our country, as a result of the absence of all these facilities resorts to the shortest route to elicit confessions- torture and intimidation as a rule rather than the exception. And more often than not, even falsely accused individuals often make confessions unable to bear such physical torture and intimidation.
Regarding the appeal made by Arup, the Supreme Court ruled that the provisions of TADA prevention Act and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967 should be read concurrently with the fundamental rights enshrined in the articles of the Indian Constitution else they violate the articles of the constitution. The Constitution of India is the supreme law of India. It lays down the framework defining fundamental political principles, establishes the structure, procedures, powers and duties of government institutions and sets out fundamental rights, directive principles and the duties of citizens. If any law is in contradiction with the constitution, then the law has to be amended to comply with the provisions of the constitution. Without proper evidence of conducts of violence, inciting violence, disturbing law and order etc, mere evidence of an individual being a member of a proscribed group does not make him/her a criminal.
So where does Khomdram Ratan fit in? Is the state government’s decision to announce him as “Wanted” on the mere and circumstantial evidence of a photograph circulated on a social media site be read as a result of the ignorance of law or a politically motivated one? Time to lay the bare truth on the table, or else the state government should revoke its hasty and ill-adviced decision which is bound to fall flat over legal scrutiny.