In 1994, S Nambi Narayanan, a scientist working for the Indian Space and Research Organisation (ISRO) was implicated with leaking vital defence secrets to two Maldivian intelligence officers.
Besides being held in custody for 50 days, Narayanan was not only intensively grilled but also tortured until he collapsed and had to be hospitalised. Two years later, the CBI dismissed all charges against him, and the Supreme Court declared him not guilty in 1998.
For a man of immense intellectual repute and calibre, these false accusations not only led to him being denigrated and declared an anti-national by the state and society, they also tarnished his name and social standing.
These damages were not only irreparable but also a violation of Article 21 of the Constitution, which guarantees every citizen the right to life, liberty and security.
Unfortunately, no provision in our constitution or law commission stands in place to remedy the damage done to those wrongly prosecuted.
24 years later, Narayanan’s redressal finally came into place on September 14, when a bench led by former CJI, Dipak Misra, awarded him compensation of ₹50 lakhs that will be recovered from the state government within eight weeks. Many argued over the seemingly prolonged time period to compensate Narayanan or that the compensation amount wasn’t even close to being enough to recompense the number of years he lost in the battle to prove his innocence.
So, where does India stand in situations where its citizens have been wrongly implicated?
As per Article 14(6) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, it is mandatory for every country to have a constitutional framework for providing compensation and rehabilitation to those who have been wrongfully prosecuted by the State. While many countries do have remedial provisions to address such a scenario, India, despite being a party to the treaty, does not have one.
One could say that Narayanan’s case has set the ball rolling—the Law Commission of India has now recommended that the right to liberty to be recognised by the Indian state as a law in its 277th report released last month.
What does this mean and particularly in cases akin to Narayanan’s?
The whole premise for a state’s existence is to guarantee the freedom of life and liberty to all of its citizens, of which neither can be returned if taken away wrongfully. Keeping that in mind, the commission has urged the centre to honour the commitment to its citizens while upholding accountability to law. It deems in its recommendation of prosecuting government officials found to have maliciously prosecuted an innocent citizen while providing a framework for computing compensation and calculating the monetary value of the loss to a person in case of a wrongful prosecution.
While other than compensations being primarily restricted to illegal detentions, no concrete framework in the Indian constitution contains instances such as misconduct of investigative agencies, poor investigative skills, political pressure and criminal prejudice towards certain sections of the community, an enormous backlog in the judiciary, and a highly stratified access to justice.
As per the commission, the criteria for compensation should include wrongful prosecution in place of wrongful incarceration or conviction, which again can be either too narrow or too wide a criteria for obvious reasons of how the system of law works in our country.
As for the former scenario, the commission points out two key criteria—malicious prosecution and absence of good faith.
While malicious prosecution, as per the commission, includes intentional fabrication of charges, planting of evidence, conscious suppression of evidence implying the innocence of the accused, use of torture to coerce statements and turning an accused to approver despite the contrary, the second criterion requires comprehensive explaining about ‘good faith’ and how the commission has cleverly manoeuvred it into a premise of compensation.
Protecting the duty bearers of the state is the criminal justice system’s paradigm of ‘good faith,’ which regards the absence of a wrong intention as a taken despite incriminating evidence of resultant wrongdoing.
Which means that reasons like carelessness, oversight and a lack of action on the part of duty bearers can easily be misused to conceal malicious intent—making the charge almost impossible to prove in court. The commission recommends this very ‘absence of good faith’ premise to be a requirement that the state must include during consideration of remedial compensation for wronged citizens.
As for the framework for calculating the compensation, here is what the commission’s report meditates over different instances of wrongful prosecutions before pointing out:
“Compensation under this framework will include both pecuniary and non-pecuniary assistance…while pecuniary assistance will be in terms of monetary award as may be determined by the special court; non-pecuniary assistance will be awarded in the form of services such as counselling, mental health services, vocational/employment skills development, and such other similar services. Non-pecuniary assistance shall also include a specific provision for removing disqualification attached to a prosecution or conviction.”
The Law Commission’s recommendations are indeed a start towards bringing a radical change to our legal system, and we hope that a provisional law soon falls into place so that no other innocent citizen has to trudge through what Nambi Narayanan had to suffer.
You can read the entire report here.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)