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CBI fumbles at Mattoo trial

The hearing in the appeal filed by the CBI in the Priyadarshini Mattoo murder case in the Delhi High Court reached a crucial phase on Wednesday.

india Updated: Sep 21, 2006 04:24 IST

The hearing in the appeal filed by the CBI in the Priyadarshini Mattoo murder case in the Delhi High Court reached a crucial phase on Wednesday with accused Santosh Kumar Singh's lawyer completing his arguments. But the CBI miserably fumbled when the bench raised some pointed questions to it on the basis of the contentions of the accused.

Commencing the rebuttal of the defence arguments, additional solicitor-general Amaresh Saran, who appeared for CBI, had no answers for even those queries relating to even circumstancial evidence that are very much in favour of the prosecution. He was seen poring over records and excessively depending on the team of lawyers assisting him.

The reason? Sharan told the division bench of justices RS Sodhi and PK Bhasin, "I'am not prepared my lord. I thought Naseem (defence lawyer) will be arguing the whole day and did not think that I will be asked to rebut so soon."

A surprised bench then asked: "What is this? The defence may go on and on. But it is the court which controls the proceedings. So it is time for you to begin."

The CBI, however, began well analysing the 13 circumstancial evidence laid down by the prosecution vis-à-vis the contention of the defence. Saran said the first three -constant harassment of Mattoo by Santosh, complaints regarding this filed by the deceased against the accused and his undertakings not to repeat it and the motive to possess her - had not been challenged even by the defence.

But it was CBI's responses during the discussion of the third circumstance -- witnesses spotting Santosh outside Mattoo's house, and fourth -- accused reaching late in class at Indian Law Institute (ILI) on the evening of January 23, 1996, the day of crime that gave an impression that the agency was grossly unprepared even on the fifth day of the hearing.

The bench asked Sharan if he supported the trial judge's rejection of the circumstance of Santosh reaching late at ILI as innocuous.

He repeatedly said, "it was immaterial and would not effect the case as other circumstances are strong enough".

Asking Sharan to "think twice" before supporting the trial judge, the bench reminded him that this was one of the most important link in the chain of events.

Then Sharan said "yes we challenge it" prompting the bench to say "this is amazing. We end up pushing the prosecution to challenge it and every time they skirt it."

The prosecution also had no answer when the court asked why no cases were registered against Santosh for stalking and harassing Mattoo which could have prevented the murder and why no action was taken against the personal security officer who was absent at the time of crime.

CBI also did not have an answer when asked why no legal action was taken against IO Lalit Mohan when the agency was aware he was creating false evidence to help the accused.

An angry Justice Bhasin then asked, "Do you know under which section he could have been booked?" Saran wrongly said Section 201(destruction of evidence) of the IPC while in fact the correct section is Section 191.

When the court asked why the statement of prime witness Kuppuswamy that he had seen Santosh outside Mattoo's house was recorded after a delay of 10 days despite he orally stating this to the IO on the day of the crime, Saran vaguely said "the delay could be a deliberate loophole left at the behest of the Santosh Singh's influential IPS father". This left every one in the courtroom wonder whether Saran had admitted that the CBI had tried to save the accused.

First Published: Sep 21, 2006 04:24 IST