The Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court comprising Justices Rajan Roy and Pankaj Mithal has asked the Central Bureau Investigation (CBI) how much more time they would need to finish the investigation into the Hathras gang rape and murder case and directed them to file a status report before November 25, the next hearing date.
Senior Counsel Jaideep Narain Mathur and Abhinav Bhattacharya were present as learned amicus curiae. Senior Counsel S.V. Raju assisted by Ms. Sarica Raju, Pranjal Krishana, Venkatesh, Guntur Promod Kumar appeared for the State of Uttar Pradesh. Senior Counsel Luthra assisted by Nitish Agarwal, Ashok Kumar Shukla, Sheejan Hasmi and Anmol Kheta, appeared for applicants seeking impleadment. Ms. Seema Kushwaha, along with Pradeep Kumar, Sandeep, Digwijai Singh represented the victim’s family and Anurag Kumar Singh was present as counsel for C.B.I in Suo-Moto Inre: Right to Decent & Dignified Last Rites/Cremation (PIL [Civ.] No. 16150 of 2020).
“The C.B.I. is directed to file a status report with regard to the ongoing investigation, before the next date. It shall also indicate as to approximately how much time is likely to be taken to complete the investigation,” said the Bench.
Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) had, through a Letter petition, dated October 9, 2020, sought to intervene in the ongoing suo moto matter in the Allahabad High Court (Lucknow bench). At the last hearing on November 2, 2020, the Letter petition was allowed and CJP permitted to intervene by the next date of hearing on November 25.
Security to the family
The court recognised that under Supreme Court orders, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) was responsible to provide security to the family of the victim and witnesses. To this effect, the court said, “Considering the fact that under the orders of the Supreme Court of India it is the Central Reserve Police Force which is required to provide security to the family members of victim and witnesses in the criminal case, the Office/ Registry of the High Court is directed to implead the Director General, Central Reserve Police Force, New Delhi as an opposite party in these suo motu proceedings and serve notice of these proceedings upon the learned Assistant Solicitor General of India at Lucknow on his behalf.”
It further added, “Let a responsible Officer of the Central Reserve Police Force file an affidavit indicating the nature of security provided and measures taken in this regard for the victim’s family before the next date.”
Name of family members to be deleted
In pursuance of the Supreme Court order in Satyama Dubey and Ors v Union of India (W.P Crl. 296 of 2020), this Division Bench directed the concerned officials of the High Court to delete the personal details of the family in the digital records.
It said, “In furtherance of orders of the Supreme Court dated 27.10.2020 the concerned Officials of the High Court were directed to delete the names of family members mentioned in the HC order dated 12.10.2020 under the heading ‘present’ and the words ‘family members of victim’ shall be substituted in place of the recitals to be deleted. Further, name of deceased victim’s father, mother, brother and sister-in-law shall also be deleted. All actions necessary for carrying out these directions in compliance of orders of the Supreme Court dated 27.10.2020 shall be taken by concerned official / registry etc. If, for carrying out the aforesaid corrections, copy of order dated 12.10.2020 as uploaded on official website of the High Court and/or ‘elegalix’ is required to be deleted/removed, the same shall be done and the corrected order as aforesaid shall be reloaded/ uploaded on the website. This shall be done forthwith.”
Applications by accused
The court noted that two applications have been filed by applicants/accused with respect to the criminal case against them, investigated by the CBI. The applicants also sought appropriate directions restraining media houses and journalists from publishing any news/article or report in respect of matters which would be subject matter of trial and any statement prejudicing the applicant’s right to fair trial.
The court responded, “As regards the accused, they do not have much of a right/locus at this stage of investigation (by the CBI) so far as its monitoring is concerned and also as regards the alleged illegal cremation. They are not necessary parties to the proceedings, however, if at any stage of the proceedings any issue arises touching upon the rights of accused or an issue arises as to the scope of monitoring of investigation, then, they may be heard.”
Their applications were disposed of by the court observing that the “applicants shall have a right of hearing as and when, if at all, any of their rights are adversely affected or likely to be adversely affected in these proceedings in any manner.”
With respect to media houses, the court asserted that they have already asked the media houses/journalists to restrain themselves while expressing their views on this subject in a manner where social harmony is not disrupted and the rights of the family members are not infringed via its order dated October 12, 2020. “No one should indulge in character assassination of victim just as accused should not be pronounced guilty before a fair trial. The Investigating Agency and the courts should be allowed to determine these issues”, reiterated the Bench.
Further, the court opined that these directions are sufficient unless there is a specific instance of infringement of right of the victim’s family, accused or the pending investigation. Accordingly, this impleadment application was also disposed of.
District Magistrate’s position
The court expressed its state of conundrum with respect to the transfer of the District Magistrate. It questioned the State counsel whether “it was fair and reasonable to allow the District Magistrate to continue at Hathras during pendency of the investigation as also these proceedings before us regarding illegal cremation etc.” For the purposes of fairness and transparency in the matter, the court also asked the counsel whether it would not be appropriate to “shift him elsewhere during pendency of these proceedings without there being any stigma attached to such an action.”
Senior counsel representing the State, Shri S. V. Raju informed the court that he would convey this to the State Government and get back to the learned Bench on this issue by the next date.
Grievances of the victim’s family
Seema Kushwaha, appearing for the family submitted to the court that the family wanted to be shifted outside Uttar Pradesh to Delhi, for the sake of its security as it was apprehensive in this regard once the proceedings before the Courts were over. Secondly, she apprised the Court about an alleged promise made by the State Government for providing employment to one member of the victim’s family which had not been fulfilled as yet. Thirdly, she stated that although part of compensation had been received by the family some pressure was being exerted for returning it in view of some alleged statement made by some family members that the family did not want it.
S.V Raju refuted such contentions made by the victim’s family. He apprised the court about the fact that the State Government had informed the Central Government about the order of the Supreme Court of India dated October 27 regarding provision of security for family members of the victim by the Central Reserve Police Force and that the CRPF had taken over security of the victim’s family and witness.
He further informed the Bench of the steps taken for providing compensation to the victim’s family and in this context, he invited their attention to relevant affidavits filed on behalf of the State. He also told the court that the process of preparing a SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) as ordered by this Court on October 12 was on and a draft SOP had been prepared which had been shared with the amicus curiae and as and when the same is finalized it would be placed before the Court for its consideration.
After hearing the contentions and submissions, the court issued these directions and slated the next hearing on November 25, 2020 at 3:15 pm.
The order dated November 2, 2020, may be read here: