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The Impact of Poor Malkhana Management on Legal System

Police Malkhana:

The Police Malkhana is a store for the safekeeping of confiscated, recovered stolen items, firearms, drugs, documents, and other evidence found in investigations. These are stored with maximum care and observance of security measures to keep them intact and prevent unauthorized use or loss. The word "Malkhana" comes from the Urdu language and stands for "storehouse" or "warehouse".

In the context of police stations, it refers to the designated location where property seized by the police during the course of their investigations under the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 and other Special and Local Laws, or collected during a preliminary inquiry, is stored for safekeeping. This property is then presented before the concerned court when necessary.

The Malkhana keeps strict protocols and systems governing the management and care of exhibits to ensure that the chain of custody is maintained, and evidential value is preserved. The entry to malkhana is normally restricted to authorized staff, including police officers, as well as designated custodians who have been assigned the responsibility for maintaining stocks on hand, records, and receipts kept in registers.Entry is prohibited for anyone else to ensure the protection, integrity, and responsibility of the objects housed inside.

The role of the police malkhana in the criminal justice system is very important, as it preserves evidence and makes it available for trial and court hearings. Of all the components that constitute the institutional framework through which law enforcement activities are undertaken and maintained, it is perhaps the management of a malkhana that would assume significance in promoting adherence to these principles by ensuring the preservation of evidence.

Relevant Laws:
As per section 451 of the CrPC, if any property is presented before a Criminal Court during an investigation or court proceeding, the Court has the authority to direct its appropriate custody until the inquiry or trial is concluded. In cases where the property is prone to quick deterioration or it is deemed necessary, the Court may, after gathering sufficient evidence, instruct for its sale or disposal.

The absence of clear and comprehensive legislation on the management of evidence creates ambiguity. Section 165 of the CrPC grants the police the power to impound suspicious articles during enquiry or investigation, yet there are no elaborate provisions specifying how they are to manage and store these things as evidence.Section 170(2) of the CrPC states that when a Police Officer seizes any property in connection with an offence, he must produce the accused and the property before a magistrate, who would order their production. This ensures that the seized property is properly presented to the magistrate for appropriate action.

According to Section 516A of the CrPC, if any property is presented before a criminal court during an investigation or trial and is believed to be related to the commission of an offence or used in its commission, the court has the authority to issue any order it deems appropriate for the proper preservation of the property until the inquiry or trial is completed. This power to make interim orders is necessary in certain situations to ensure that the property remains available either as evidence or for the purpose of making a correct decision after the conclusion of the case.

As per the provisions stated in section 52 of the CrPC, the individual responsible for making an arrest under this Code is authorized to confiscate any weapons deemed offensive that the arrested person may have on their person. These weapons must then be surrendered to the Court or designated officer to whom the arresting officer is obligated to present the arrested person, in accordance with the requirements stated in this Code.

In the case of Sunder Bhai Ambalal Desai v. State of Gujarat, the Supreme Court noted that the intent and structure of the different provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) suggest that if the property involved in a crime is confiscated by the police, it should not be held by either the Court or the police for any longer than absolutely necessary.

The management systems for Malkhanas were deemed inadequate by the Supreme Court of India in the case of Union of India v Mohanlal and another (2016), leading to expressed dissatisfaction.

Court Malkhana:
The Police Regulation Bengal (PRB) of 1943 contains provisions on the care, custody, and management of property rooms i.e. malkhana in courts. Regulation 525 of the PRB specifies that 'A secure room shall be provided in each court to serve as a malkhana, into which shall be placed all properties sent to the court and taken charge of by the court officers.' The Regulation further details how any seized item in relation to any case, such as jewellery, counterfeit currency, documents, or weapons should be recorded, maintained, returned, or disposed of after completion of the legal procedure.

However, the condition of most of the court malkhanas at present is very poor and there is no sufficient space or arrangements for keeping exhibits and properties related to pending cases in an orderly manner; as a result a major chunk of the seized properties are kept at police malkhanas.

A major challenge faced by investigating officers and the judiciary is the lack of proper arrangements in police malkhanas. Due to the system's malnourishment and poor infrastructure, instances occur when evidence is damaged, lost, or spoiled, which can undermine the reliability and integrity of it in court. Chain of custody problems emerge due to lacking documentation and tracking systems, making it difficult to establish the originality and admissibility of evidence.

Backlogs and inefficiencies also cause delays in processing and analysing evidence, contributing to the longer duration of investigations and trials, thus delaying the timely delivery of justice. Some major investigating agencies like CID, West Bengal have no proper malkhana of their own.

In a typical scenario representing the evidence management system in our country, investigating officer places seized documents or counterfeit notes in the Malkhana as evidence for a case. Months later, when preparing the charge-sheet, the officer finds that rodents have chewed them up, leaving only tiny torn pieces behind. This highlights the shortcomings in the storage and preservation of evidence within police malkhanas.

Valuable evidence is often stored in inadequate conditions, such as open roadsides, rooftops, makeshift structures, or corridors near police stations. Additionally, expensive items like cars are left to deteriorate at the campus of police stations, gathering rust due to neglect. This situation underscores the urgent need for improved infrastructure, security measures, and oversight to ensure the integrity and preservation of crucial evidence in the criminal justice system.

Management of evidence is one of the fundamental components of the criminal justice system. A well-established fact is that evidence has a paramount place in making it possible to prove cases beyond any reasonable doubt; however, mishandled or mismanaged evidence leads to weak evidentiary aspects for criminal cases. There are countless instances where individuals were declared not guilty due to a lack of proper evidence.

The challenges involved in managing a Malkhana at a police station are many. An overwhelming amount of evidence, insufficient storage space, inappropriate conditions for biological sample preservation and protection, decay of genetic materials in the absence of suitable methodology and storage system, as well as untrained Malkhana staff have been found as some of the major causes contributing towards the mismanagement of Malkhana.

The subject of the safekeeping and proper disposal of seized articles in a Malkhana is one that is very important for ensuring a fair trial. Legal decisions have repeatedly held that the prosecution's case can be considered questionable if it does not include proof that safe custody was maintained over the seized articles.

To ensure a well-functioning police malkhana, the set of measures to be considered includes physical improvements, administrative practices, surveillance, and oversight. The first part of the improvement process should include investments in infrastructure like reliable shelving units, climate control systems, and suitable spaces for storage to guarantee that evidence and seized items remain in the best condition.

An important initiative would be to introduce advanced inventory management systems with digital tracking and documentation features to increase accountability and transparency in operations at the malkhana. For this reason, regular maintenance work is necessary, thanks to which it will be possible to eliminate faults on time or prevent further damage that might result from natural wear and tear, rodents or unintended neglect. When it comes to security enhancements such as access controls, monitoring cameras, or alarm systems, they help deter unauthorized individuals from entering the facility as well as protect stored goods against any possible tampering or theft.

E-Malkhana is a contemporary approach adopted by law enforcement authorities to effectively and efficiently keep records and preserve the property recovered from the crime scene. It involves implementing a scientific system of storage and maintenance for property seized as evidence, replacing the conventional system that often resulted in failure to locate stored material.

E-Malkhana entails using pre-defined cardboard boxes characterized by unique numbering, with each box bearing a dynamic QR code linked to a website dedicated to providing in-depth information about the case and items being held, thereby making it easier for police officers to access this data leading to improved efficiency during investigations and trials. Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) tags are used for identifying and tracking each of the seized items.

For efficient implementation of e-Malkhana system, construction of new malkhana rooms along with required equipment and accessories is required, as even today many exhibits are found kept outside the police station malkhana with viscera packets hanging from the trees near the malkhana.

A locker area is necessary for the storage of valuable items. The safekeeping of narcotics and explosive substances needs to be assigned to an enclosed space. Separate refrigerated storage must be available at every Malkhana, or at least in every central Malkhana, for biological evidence. This will also require a separate section for electronic evidence. Centralized Vehicle Yards can be created in congested cities where there is a scarcity of space, and these yards would serve as dumping grounds for impounded vehicles. In addition, the system should have round-the-clock CCTV coverage to prevent any accidents.

Moreover, the provision of training programs for personnel on protocols of evidence handling, chain of custody procedures, and the need for secure upkeep of malkhanas should be extended. Rigorous audit procedures and frequent inspections by independent monitoring entities are effective in ensuring adherence to the set standards and discovering areas that may require improvement. Engaging key stakeholders such as the judiciary, forensic specialists, and community members can help infuse best practices and foster accountability. In this way, law enforcement agencies can establish reliable police malkhanas contributing to effectiveness and fairness in criminal investigations and legal proceedings.

Written By: Md.Imran Wahab
, IPS, IGP, Provisioning, West Bengal
Email: [email protected], Ph no: 9836576565

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