The Punjab and Haryana high court on Thursday criticised the special investigation team (SIT) constituted by the Haryana government to probe the alleged Murthal gangrapes during the Jat quota agitation last February, saying there was enough evidence to indicate that the incident did occur.
The court also stayed the framing of charges against five people, who were accused of offences such as rioting, looting and molestation in a chargesheet filed by the SIT in August. The gangrape charges were dropped in a supplementary chargesheet filed the next month.
The bench, comprising justices SS Saron and Darshan Singh, said two different statements provided by witnesses and various pieces of evidence – such as semen-splattered clothes found at the scene – went to disprove the probe team’s claim that no gangrapes occurred on that day. It then asked the SIT to find the offenders, so as to “instil confidence in the public”.
The two witnesses in the case are Bobby Joshi, a resident of Delhi, and Raj Kumar, a taxi driver.
As the hearing began, amicus curiae (an impartial advisor to a court of law) Anupam Gupta said records showed that the SIT – without keeping the high court in the loop – informed the trial court of gangrape charges being deleted from the FIR last September. The same was then reiterated before another high court bench, which was hearing the bail pleas of the accused.
This casts serious doubts on the investigation being carried out by the SIT, Gupta said.
The amicus curiae then said it was highly improper of the SIT to make taxi driver Raj Kumar – who claimed to have seen a woman being dragged out of her car – record his statement before a magistrate only in October 2016, two months after a challan was submitted to a trial court.
Gupta dubbed it as an attempt to “sanitise” the investigation, adding that the SIT head – inspector general of police (IGP) Mamta Singh – had committed “professional impropriety”.
The government counsels, in their response, pointed out that the investigation was still on. They explained that the gangrape charges were dropped only after semen samples of the five accused failed to match with what was found on clothes recovered from the site. The sections of gangrape were added to the FIR in April, over a month after the Jat agitation ended.
Singh, for her part, said a statement was recorded before the judicial magistrate because she doubted the truth in Raj Kumar’s claim. The statement the taxi driver made before the magistrate turned out be different from what he told the police earlier, she added.
However, the bench – upon examining both the statements – found that Raj Kumar had not deviated from the story he had narrated to the police. It then asked Singh to explain why the police were in a hurry to file the challan when the investigation was far from complete.
“Why did you get his statement recorded before the magistrate? Did you have any new evidence, was any arrest made, or did you think this person would resile from his position? Why was this done almost six months (after the first statement)… when even the challan had been submitted,” the high court asked Singh and the state counsels.
Alleging that the state was trying to keep the Murthal gangrapes under wraps, Gupta demanded that the case be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for an impartial probe. He also sought that the call records of top supervisory officials in Sonepat be drawn up, so the court could ascertain why they showed up only after the alleged rapes were committed – and not during the agitation itself.
The bench asked the central agency if it was read to take up the case, to which CBI counsel Sumeet Goel said it did not have the requisite manpower to investigate all the FIRs. “However, we are bound by the orders of the high court,” he added.
The bench ordered the SIT to file a fresh status report, and scheduled the next hearing for February 28. It also directed the state to file an affidavit – clearly stating that charges of rape and kidnapping have not been dropped from the FIR – before the trial court.