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HC monitored police probe closely

The court did not agree with petitioner's apprehension that evidence was being tampered with, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: Mar 05, 2006 04:23 IST
Pankaj Vohra
Pankaj Vohra

In a new twist to the controversy regarding the police probe following the Jessica Lall case verdict, it has come to light that the Delhi High Court had monitored the initial investigations of the murder even before the charge-sheet was filed.

The court had also rejected the plea for transferring the case to the CBI after a considered opinion by the division benches which went through two status reports and the case diaries submitted to them in sealed covers.

In the process, the HC at that time did not seem to agree with the apprehension of the petitioner that evidence was being tampered with and the case should be handed over to the CBI since the conduct of some Delhi Police officials was in question.

The court had also not considered it necessary to give instructions that a case for destruction of evidence should be registered against Bina Ramani, the host of the party where Jessica was shot dead on the night of April 29, 1999.

The fact that the HC had been apprised of the lax investigations even during the early stages could become the central point of the reply the Delhi Police may give in response to the notice served to them by the division bench of justices Vijendra Jain and Rekha Sharma in the wake of the verdict. The division bench has given the police time till April 19 to file a reply.

However, the new facts have raised fresh doubts over the functioning of the criminal justice system -- the police and judiciary included. They could also help in starting a debate over a systemic change and enforcing accountability of the police and the courts.

As early as May 14, 1999, an NGO Bhrashtrachar Virodhi Morcha had moved a petition demanding the transfer of the case to the CBI and seeking the court's intervention in getting a case of evidence-tampering registered against Bina Ramani.

Three days later a division bench of justices Anil Dev Singh and Mukul Mudgul issued a notice to the respondents, the Union government and the NCT of Delhi government.

On May 21, in pursuance of criminal writ petition number 473/99, the court served a notice to Rakesh Tiku and S.K. Aggarwal, who appeared on behalf of respondent numbers one and two. The then SHO, Mehrauli, Surender Sharma was also present.

Aggarwal was asked to file a status report in a sealed cover regarding the investigations. He was further asked to file an affidavit indicating the names and other relevant particulars of the persons who were present at Tamarind Court the party venue).

The affidavit was also to contain information on whether the restaurant owners had complied with the provisions of law. The matter was listed for May 28.

On the next date, a division bench of justices Anil Dev Singh and A.K .Srivastava and its counsels to present the copies of the case diaries to the registrar of the court in a sealed cover so that he could place the same before the judges. The matter was listed for July 20, 1999.

The matter was then taken up by another division bench comprising justices Dalveer Bhandari and R.S. Sodhi on July 20. Additional DCP (South) Vivek Gogia and S.K. Saxena, public prosecutor for the Delhi Police, were among those present.

The counsels for Delhi state submitted that the investigations were almost complete and the state was preparing to file a charge-sheet in the matter. The counsels wanted the court to take up some other issues, but after the charge-sheet had been filed.

The judges ruled that the envelopes of case diaries and the status report should be resealed again and placed by the registrar before the next court hearing on August 23, 1999.

On August 23, the division bench was informed that the charge-sheet had been filed and since one more application (which had not been listed) had to be moved, the matter should be adjourned. The judges then listed the matter for October 5.

On October 5, the court acknowledged the receipt of four sealed covers from the SHO, Mehrauli, and the copy of the reply filed by the respondents. The reply to the rejoinder was, however, not filed.

On December 17, the next date, the judges disposed of the petition on the ground that the charge-sheet had been filed and there was no point in keeping the matter pending.

The court said the state could take back the sealed covers. At this point the petitions pleaded that directions should be given to the registrar or joint registrar to sign every page of the status report and case diary, and retain photocopies of the same before they were returned to the state. This would ensure that no tampering took place.

On January 17, 2000, a division bench of Usha Mehra and S.N. Kapoor rejected the plea for signing of pages and observed that there was no such need since the status report and case diaries were in a sealed cover. The petition was disposed.

What could cause some embarrassment to the judiciary, therefore, is that in hindsight, the petitioner's fears have proved to be correct.

It is also not known that whether during the trial, the various judges who recorded the evidence exercised their right under sections 173(8), 311 and 319 to suo moto question the police or the witnesses for more information.

First Published: Feb 28, 2006 02:04 IST