Almost two years and six judges later, the sensational ragging-to-death case of medical student Aman Kachroo has finally come up for hearing in the Himachal Pradesh high court.
The development is significant as Kachroo's alleged killers have already "completed" their jail sentence and are currently out. The state is seeking enhancement of their punishment, even as the accused insist they are innocent.
The case came up for hearing before the division bench of Justice RB Misra and Justice Surinder Singh and continued for over two hours on Wednesday with defence counsel RS Cheema pleading against the verdict of the lower court.
The next hearing is slated for Dec 12.
Almost two years have passed since four students of the Rajendra Prasad Medical College and Hospital at Tanda town in Kangra district were convicted and sentenced to four years' rigorous imprisonment for culpable homicide by a fast-track Dharamsala court.
This is the first time the high court heard the case. Earlier, six of the 11 high court judges had recused themselves from hearing the case that at one point shook the nation.
Ajay Verma, Naveen Verma, Abhinav Verma and Mukul Sharma were held guilty on November 11, 2010, under sections 304 II (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 452 (house-trespass after preparation for hurt, assault or wrongful restraint), 34 (common intent) and 342 (wrongful confinement) of the Indian Penal Code by Additional District and Sessions Judge Purinder Vaidya after 20 months of trial. Aman, 19, was in the medical college since 2007. He died on March 8, 2009, after he was ragged by his four drunk seniors. Within one month of the trial court verdict, all four accused moved the high court against the decision.
One of the petitioners, Naveen, contended that the trial was highlighted by the media, both electronic and print, and that the judgment had been influenced by the reports in the media. On the other hand, the state moved against the verdict on two counts. First, Aman was brutally beaten under the garb of ragging by his seniors the state sought higher punishment under section 302 of the Indian Penal Code on charges of murder, not under sections 304 II (culpable homicide not amounting to murder). And second, the trial court had shown leniency while pronouncing the quantum of punishment. However, the state government freed the convict students on August 15 this year, seven months before their four-year rigorous imprisonment was to end.
"Today I am disheartened not because the killers of my son have been set free, but because the message I have been trying to convey to all students across the nation, that is, that crimes disguised as ragging will not be tolerated, has been undermined by the Himachal Pradesh government," said Rajendar Kachroo, Aman's father settled in Gurgaon near Delhi, when he came to know that the four had been released from prison.
Kachroo is monitoring the National Ragging Prevention Programme on behalf of the University Grants Commission.