In the traditional sense, panchas are five individuals who act as independent witnesses during any police raid. However, in the cruise raid conducted by the Narcotics Control Bureau(NCB) which led to the high profile arrest of actor Shah Rukh Khan‘s son Aryan Khan, two such witnesses were present, the legitimacy of whom have recently been questioned by NCP leader, Nawab Malik.
According to a report in the Indian Express, Malik claimed that both these witnesses don’t hold good, since one has links to a political party, while the other has a criminal record. He dubbed the cruise ship raid as ‘fake’ and claimed during a press conference in Mumbai that, “One of them (witnesses) is Manish Bhanushali, who claims to be a BJP office-bearer and the other is KP Gosawi, who claims to be a private detective."
The Indian Express reports that NCB Deputy DG Gyaneshwar Singh has called NCP allegations ‘baseless’. Gyaneshwar claimed that the two persons were “among 10 independent witnesses who were used as panchas in the panchnamas” that were carried out by the bureau.
Who Are The Panchas and what is a panchnama?
In a criminal investigation, a panchnama provides supportive evidence of the investigation done at the crime scene or seizure of materials etc. The proceedings of a panchnama are recorded in front of witnesses also known as panchas. The witnesses corroborate the things found by police and sign the panchnama.
The Indian Express report claims that although panchas are generally supposed to be ‘independent’ witnesses, it is sometimes difficult to get such persons during an ongoing raid. Therefore, in some cases, panchas are people known to the police (although that shouldn’t be the case).
The issues of who the panchas are is generally dealt with in the trial phase, and do not crop up in the investigation phase, because during that period it is not known who the panchas are. However, according to the Indian Express report, in Aryan Khan’s case, the identity of the two panchas came into the limelight because one of them was seen holding hands and escorting Arbaaz Merchant on camera, while the other had taken a photo with Aryan Khan which had since then gone viral.
What Are the guidelines about who can be a panch witness?
The Indian Express report claims, “According to Section 100 (4) of the Code of Criminal Procedure Act, ‘The officer.. shall call upon two or more independent and respectable inhabitants of the locality in which the place to be searched is situated or of any other locality if no such inhabitant of the said locality is available or is willing to be a witness to the search…'"
In the Aryan Khan case, however, one of the witnesses has an FIR registered against him. Indian Express report says that NCB claimed that they were not aware of the background of the panch witness.
Panch witnesses are also supposed to be just observers, they cannot participate in the raid carried out by the law enforcement officials and that is part of NCP’s allegation against the panch witnesses in Aryan Khan case.
NCP spokesperson and Maharashtra Minister, Nawab Malik had previously said, “The man seen holding Aryan Khan’s hand and taking him inside the NCB office is named K P Gosavi. Subsequently, there was a photo released of him with Khan inside the NCB office. NCB officials later claimed that Gosavi was not an NCB official. If he was not an official, what was he doing inside the NCB office with Khan?”