A Legal Dose

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The sc bans forced Narco tests — now, cops face a tougher task, says Neha Dixit

 

Test cases (clockwise from top right) Ajmal Kasab, Arun Gawli, Rajesh Talwar and Santokben Jadeja — some of the people who underwent narco-analysis
Test cases (clockwise from top right) Ajmal Kasab, Arun Gawli, Rajesh Talwar and Santokben Jadeja — some of the people who underwent narco-analysis
Photo: Reuters

WITHIN THREE days of arresting the ‘Godmother’ of Porbandar Santokben Jadeja on May 9, 2007 — for harbouring two rape-cummurder accused — the Gujarat police sought narco-analysis and brain mapping tests on her. The court quashed the plea. While Santokben was granted bail, the Gujarat government kept appealing in higher courts for her narco-tests.

Three years later, this May 5, a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan ruled (on petitions filed by Santokben, Arun Gawli and others) that forcible administration of these tests is an “unwarranted intrusion” into the personal liberty of those facing criminal charges. The court said these tests violated Article 20(3) of the Constitution which says no person accused of an offence could be compelled to be a witness against himself. Even ‘milder’ lie detector or brain mapping tests cannot be forced on an accused anymore.

Santokben’s case is just one example of the controversy surrounding narco-tests as a crime investigation tool — the intravenous administration of a ‘truth’ serum, sodium pentothal or sodium amytal mixed in distilled water.

Santokben had objected to the tests, fearing that ‘she might die’, a fact corroborated by Dr Ritwick Bhandari, consultant anaesthetist: “If the drug used in the test is administered in very high doses, the patient can lose consciousness and lapse into a coma, necessitating ventilator support to revive him.”

Besides, the authenticity of the test has also been questioned. Says Dr PC Gandhi, founder of Truthlabs, a leading forensic lab, “Narco-tests are inhuman in nature. The American neurologist Dr Lawrence A Farewell, who invented this technology in 1995, has himself stated that the results are not accurate. They need validation.”

Indeed, several of the accused in recent high-profile cases have alleged torture and coercion — including words being put into their mouths — during the tests. So much so that the National Human Rights Commission had to take cognizance in the Aarushi Talwar murder case.

CRITICS SAY that the narcotest has become the CBI’s favourite tool — physical coercion has become an easy substitute to painstaking inquiries. Noted civil rights lawyer Prashant Bhushan says, “Narcoanalysis is not only known to be imperfect, uncertain and hazardous, it also gives you incorrect information.”

However, former CBI Director Joginder Singh differs. “Narcotests are recommended in rare cases, like terrorists. The results are 80 percent accurate. The right of the accused to consent should not be extended to terrorists like Kasab.”

That such tests have been conducted selectively was raised during the arguments in the Santokben case. Why, for instance, were former Gujarat DIG DG Vanzara or CM Narendra Modi not subjected to the narco-test? Says SC lawyer, Sanjay Hegde, “Narco-tests should not be looked at as punishment, but as a tool to aid investigation — if necessary, to prove the innocence of people like Rajesh Talwar in the Aarushi murder case.”

The Supreme Court verdict may have assured the right to silence for the likes of Santokben, but it has also posed a challenge to the investigating agencies — to think outside the narco box.

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