The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) special court, Haryana, has come down heavily on Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh while massively curtailing his defence witnesses' list in a rape case against him.
He had produced a "whopping" list of 98 witnesses of which 28 had been examined. CBI special judge RK Yadav has now allowed just one more defence witness.
Initially in the trial, the judge had allowed Ram Rahim to lead the defence evidence through his counsel, but later observed that the names of even some dead witnesses had been listed, and in some cases wrong addresses of witnesses were provided, while some witnesses were given up. There were also instances where a number of witnesses were called to prove the same point.
The order on November 15 thus said, "The accused (Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh) has failed to pass litmus test. I am of the considered opinion that the accused has submitted list of 98 witnesses with a motive to cause delay in disposal of the present case... [The] whopping list of defense a witness […] is vexatious and is an attempt to frustrate the trial and also amounts to misuse of process of law."
It added, "In the present case, the matter which is involved is if the prosecutrix (rape victim) was sexually exploited by accused or not. As claimed by the prosecution, the prosecutrix were sexually assaulted in a room where the accused and prosecutrix were present and none else was present. In such type of cases, when accused is adopting delaying tactics and trying to play ducks and drakes, the court cannot be a dumb spectator to allow the accused to circumvent the procedure of law."
"It is also quite relevant to mention here that present case is a rape case and falls in prioritised category of cases and is required to be decided at the earliest... The court will be failing in its duty if justice is delayed in such type of situation," the judge further observed.
Now, only one witness, father-in-law of one of the two rape victims, will be examined in the case.
In addition, if Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh wants to examine himself as a defense witness, that will be allowed by the court.
There are two rape victims in the case. The prosecution had closed its evidence and both victims stood by their allegations. There were 15 prosecution witnesses and their evidence was closed on September 3 last year.
Then, on February 11, Ram Rahim got recorded his statement and refuted the allegations, claiming, "Since 1990, I am not medically or physically fit to have sex. I am not potent."
The matter had begun in 2002, when anonymous letters addressed to the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana high court were circulated, alleging sexual exploitation of female followers at Dera Sacha Sauda in Sirsa.
On September 24, 2002, the HC handed over the case to the CBI. The chargesheet was filed on July 30, 2007.
The dera has responded to the report 'Rape case: Ram Rahim can no more delay judgment' (HT, November 16), saying that the report is "entirely false, frivolous and baseless".
In an email, dera spokesman Dr Aditya Insan has said that "we have presented 29 witnesses in 8-9 months while the prosecution took six years to present 15 prosecution witnesses".
He underlined that the court had not "blankly refused" examination of defense witnesses. "We were directed to file a fresh application for the remaining defense witnesses wherein the honorable court would decide which all witness would be called. It is normally a routine for the courts to proceed with all witnesses in the list," he wrote.
The order of the court, however, has severely pruned the list to let just one name remain eventually.
The spokesman, though, has also claimed that "on the previous two dates, the CBI has itself given frivolous grounds to stop examination of witnesses that were present [and] had substantively different facts to add to the case".