A Panchnama is a document having legal bearings which records evidences and findings that an officer makes at the scene of an offence/ crime. However, it is not only the recordings at the scene of a crime, but can be anywhere which may be related to the crime/offence and from where incriminating evidence is likely to be collected. The document so prepared needs to be signed by the investigating officer who prepares the Panchnama and, as discussed above, at least two independent and impartial witnesses called ‘Panchas’ as also the concerned party. The witnesses are required to be not only impartial but 'respectable'. 'Respectable' here would mean a person who is not dis-reputed. One should also see that the witnesses are in their senses at the time of panchnama proceedings. Only majors are to be taken in as witnesses as a minors’ witness may not withstand the legal scrutiny. Needless to say that due diligence has to be maintained in its preparation. While drawing the panchnama, sticking to the legal procedures and guidelines envisaged for the raiding parties should be scrupulously followed as this will, in all circumstances, help in the department an upper hand vis-à-vis accused person. Any deviation would only benefit the accused and is likely to tarnish the image of the department which could have bearing in future cases too.
A panchnama is a record of the things visually perceived or actually experienced by the panchas in the course of investigation. If it is a search, the panchnama should record everything that takes place in the course of search. Mere recording that the search officers offered for search of their person is not sufficient. If documents are seized it is necessary not only to record what are the documents recovered from the premises but also necessary to record a brief description of the exact place where the documents were located in the premises and from where they were seized by the seizing officer. It is also necessary to record as to what steps the seizing officer had taken so as to refrain him and persons accompanying him from causing any damage to the documents as also to avoid any interpolation or inference in any manner with such documents and contents thereof. It is further required to record as to what steps were taken to safeguard the documents and to avoid possibility of any stranger’s interference with the seized materials. When any documents are seized, it is highly necessary to enclose the same in a cover and to seal such cover so that no other persons get opportunity to interfere with such document. All these things can be recorded briefly but precisely. This aspect gains more importance once there is objection regarding veracity of the panchnama and the contents of the documents stated to have been seized in the course of such panchnama.
A panchnama should disclose proper description of the premises and the things found in the premises. This is very much important because when there is serious dispute about the articles alleged to have been recovered and seized from such premises and such articles are sought to be linked with the activities of the concerned party. The panchnama and the proceedings in relation thereto should not leave any room to entertain any doubt as such and for the possibility of planting any article, and/or document by third person or of the scope for interference by the strangers with the documents or contents thereof. Any article or document seized from any premises is required to be properly sealed after being packed with necessary wrapper or envelop or covering, as the case may be, so as to avoid any possibility of third party interference with such article of the document. In the absence of the above said procedure the credibility of the entire procedure would be doubted. It is also necessary to record not only the description of the premises but also the movement of the officers and the panchas searching the premises and every relevant action of every such person has to be precisely recorded in the panchnama to avoid any doubt about the seizure proceedings.
Different law enforcing agencies draw panchnama according to the specific needs of the Act under which it is being drawn. The degree of complexity in the panchnama would depend upon the task at hand. The style of narration may change from case to case keeping in mind the law being implemented. Despite the differences in requirement under the particular Acts, certain facets of the panchnama are common and of utmost importance which one would do well to take care of while preparing it. Normally the panchnama procedure contains the following:
- On top of the panchnama, the word ‘Panchnama’ with date should be written;
- The name, age, parentage and address of the panch witnesses should be incorporated;
- Without divulging the intelligence in entirety, the panch witnesses should be briefed about the nature of action contemplated by the officers.
- The panchnama is prepared by the investigating officer and the narration of events during the proceedings is on behalf of the panch witnesses.
- The panchnama should necessarily state the authority under which the proceedings are taking place;
- It should also record the authority’s designation authorizing such proceedings;
- Before commencing the search, the officers and the witnesses should necessarily offer their personal searches to the inmates of the premises/concerned party and record this event.
- The proceedings conducted in the premises/on the spot of offence should be recorded, as far as possible, in chronological sequence.
- An event or fact that is likely to make the case watertight should be unfailingly highlighted.
- A proper recording of the timings would be there;
- While it is not expected that the panchnama drawing officer be a literary genius, nevertheless certain degree of control over the language used to describe the events is required.
- Residential premises where chances of presence of female inmates are there, the team should be accompanied by a lady officer;
- Any incriminating evidence like documents, articles, etc. found should be inventorised giving proper description of each and every item seized/taken over for further investigation;
- It should be clearly mentioned whether the article has been seized or taken over for further investigation;
- During the panchnama proceedings the raiding party should ensure that no damage is done to either any property or person and this fact too should be brought out clearly in the panchnama. Care should be taken not to hurt the religious sentiments of the people in question and the same needs to be mentioned.
- In certain cases place of interception may vary from place of actual seizure. The reasons for carrying out the search operation in a place other than the spot of interception should be clearly mentioned.
- Before obtaining the signature of all the concerned signatories to the panchnama the panchnama should be read and any correction made should be initialed/signed by all the signatories. Once this is done, the entire panchnama should be read over to the panch witnesses and the concerned party in vernacular and the same be recorded in the panchnama.
- After the panchnama proceedings are over, a copy of the panchnama and its annexure should be handed over to the concerned party and a dated acknowledgement taken from him on the other copy.
- Under no circumstances, any corrections/amendments in the panchnama, whatsoever, should be attempted as this could vitiate the opinion of the adjudicating authority/judge.
By: Mr. M. GOVINDARAJAN - May 22, 2013