In the ongoing trial of alleged gang rape and murder of a 19-year-old Dalit girl in Hathras last year in September, the Allahabad High Court has taken cognisance of the alleged threat to the family of the victim and their lawyers.
After the alleged gang rape, the girld had succumbed to her injuries on September 29 at Safdarjung Hospital, Delhi and was allegedly cremated in the middle of the night without her family’s consent.
Subsequently, on October 1, the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court took suo motu cognisance over the gang rape and post-midnight cremation stating, “The incidents which took place after the death of the victim on 29.09.2020 leading up to her cremation, as alleged, have shocked our conscience, therefore, we are taking suo moto cognisance of the same.”
Threat to the victim’s family and lawyers
Recently, an affidavit has been filed by the victim’s brother in the High Court in connection with an unfortunate incident on March 5 when the prosecution witnesses presented themselves before the Special Court at Hathras where the trial against the crime is pending. The witnesses who were accompanied by their counsels, Sharad Bhatnagar and Seema Kushwaha, had appeared before the Presiding Officer, Special Court (SC/ST Act), Hathras.
Thereafter, an advocate named Tarun Hari Sharma, stormed into the court room and charged towards the victim’s family and their lawyers, “shouting and issuing threats”. Amongst the barrage of threats extended to them, the trial was interrupted and the family’s counsel Seema could not represent them.
The High Court further recorded that the affidavit stated that when Tarun Sharma aggressively approached them, it was evident that he was under the influence of alcohol. At the same time, a large mob, including lawyers, entered the courtroom and surrounded the applicant and the complainant’s counsel in order to threaten and intimidate them.
In these circumstances, the High Court Bench of Justices Rajan Roy and Jaspreet Singh noted that the Presiding Judge was forced to stop the trial proceedings on March 5. On being ordered to leave the courtroom, Tarun Sharma again threatened the applicant and his counsel!
The affidavit also states that on account of this ruckus created by Advocate Tarun Sharma and the mob, the witnesses could not properly depose on account of fear for their lives and security, and that there was a clear attempt to hinder the trial.
The havoc did not end here as when the proceedings resumed, another Advocate namely Hari Sharma who, as alleged, is the father of Advocate Tarun Hari Sharma, entered the courtroom and started threatening the complainant’s counsel. In these circumstances, the Presiding Officer was forced to stop the proceedings again.
The Presiding Judge observed the real and grave threat to the counsel and the applicant and “ordered the police personnel present in the courtroom to provide her (Seema Kushwaha) security cover within the court premises. The Court also ordered the S.H.O. of P.S. Kotwali to provide safe and secure passage to the complainant counsel, Advocate Seema Kushwaha, and to drop her at the Hathras border. It is only then that the counsel was able to leave Hathras district court premises and thereafter she has been unable to appear before the concerned court due to the risk to her safety and security.”
Yesterday, Sharad Bhatnagar, another lawyer representing the victim’s family, informed the High Court Bench that the trial was fixed before the Special Court at Hathras on March 19. However, the counsel for the victim and the victim’s brother could not appear before the Special Court, anticipating the threat.
Senior Advocate SV Raju, appearing for the State submitted that if the facts as alleged are correct then it is a “serious matter” of which cognisance should be taken by the High Court and every effort should be made to ensure fair trial as also security to the victim’s family and the witnesses. He also submitted that he had no objection if a report is called for from the Presiding Judge and also if the trial is stayed in the interim.
The Amicus Curiae appointed by the court, Sri Jaideep Narayan Mathur, also emphasised the necessity of ensuring free trial in the matter, given the circumstances of the alleged gang rape and murder of a young Dalit girl and also, the incident which is alleged to have occurred on March 5.
CBI’s counsel has informed the court that it intends to file an application for transfer of the trial from District Hathras, elsewhere, within the State. The court also noted that the CBI has filed its charge sheet before the Special Judge, SC/ST Act at Hathras against the accused persons.
It is pertinent to note that the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) had been entrusted with the responsibility of providing protection to the family of the victim. CJP had also filed an intervention application in the case seeking witness protection by central paramilitary forces.
After perusing the horrific circumstances, the Division Bench has directed the District Judge, Hathras to inquire as to whether such an incident occurred on March 5 and send his report to the Court in a sealed cover.
“He shall also send a report of the learned Presiding Officer, Special Court, SC/ST Act who is trying Sessions Trial No. 583 of 2020 as to the incidents which may have taken place in his presence in the Court Room or outside. The District Judge shall before preparing such report go through CCTV Cameras, if any, installed in the court premises”, read the order.
The report is to be made available to the Senior Registrar of High Court (Lucknow) within 15 days who in turn shall place it on record of these proceedings.
Further, the court also directed the Inspector General, C.R.P.F. Central Sector, Lucknow to collect information from his personnel who have been deputed for security of the victim’s family and who, in all probability, must have accompanied the family to the Trial Court, as to whether any such incident, as has been narrated in the affidavit took place in the Court premises.
He has been directed to submit his report along with a report of the concerned officer of CRPF who may have been present on the spot, in sealed cover, to the Senior Registrar of the High Court within the next 2 weeks.
After considering all such reports, the High Court Bench shall decide whether the trial in question before the Special Judge, (SC/ST Act), Hathras is required to be stayed and is to be transferred elsewhere.
The State Government and the District Authorities have been directed to make all possible arrangements for security and smooth conduct of the trial within the court premises and outside it. “The CRPF, needless to say, shall continue to provide protection to the victim’ family and the witnesses in terms of the Order of the Supreme Court of India dated 27.10.2020 passed in Writ (Criminal) bearing No. 296 of 2020”, said the Bench.
The court has also ordered for the preservation of the CCTV footage relating to the premises at Hathras where the trial was being conducted on March 5. Till the next date of listing, the Trial Court has been instructed to conduct the proceedings in- camera. It said, “The District Judge is directed to ensure that the trial is allowed to be conducted before the Court concerned in a free and fair manner without any outside hindrance.”
Finally, the High Court Bench issued warnings and said, “We also make it clear that if any person who is stranger to the trial as also anyone who may be involved in the trial, tries to disturb the proceedings before the Trial Court or in any manner attempts to threaten the life, liberty and property of the victim’s family and the witnesses, we would be taking severe action against such person.”
The order may be read here:
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