Barely a week before the 90-day deadline was to end, Ahmednagar police on Friday filed a 300-page chargesheet against the three accused arrested in the rape and murder of a 14-year-old in Kopardi village of Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district.
Stringent sections of Indian Penal Code and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, have been applied against the trio — Jitendra Shinde, Santosh G. Bhaval and Nitin G. Bhailume — who were arrested within hours of the crime on the evening of July 13.
An officer said the onus of proving guilt lies with the prosecution under IPC but it’s the opposite with POCSO. “Here, the onus of proving innocence lies with the accused…We have invoked strong sections. They will find it difficult to get away from death penalty,” the officer said.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has said that his government would press for death penalty for the trio.
Denying that the police had delayed filing the charge-sheet — an allegation levelled by many during recent statewide protests by people from the Maratha community against the teen’s rape and murder — Ahmednagar SP Saurabh Tripathi said on Friday, “There were certain technical issues involved; crucial evidence had to be collected…. We (also) wanted to make a watertight case,” he told The Indian Express.
Refusing to give details from the chargesheet, Tripathi said there are 70 witnesses.
Advocate Ujjwal Nikam, special public prosecutor in the case, said he will try to expedite it. Asked about a fast-track court, Nikam said the state government will take a decision on that. “A fast-track court is set up after the charge-sheet is filed,” he added.
The police have invoked IPC Section 302 (murder) and Section 376(A) [rape], and Sections 4, 5, 16 and 17 of POCSO.
“During interrogation, the main accused (Shinde) said they had stalked the girl on four or five occasions,” an officer with knowledge of the interrogation details said, adding that they “must have chased the victim on more occasions but are not revealing it now”.
Her family, however, said the victim, who was in Class IX in a local school, had never complained of being stalked or harassed.
According to the officer, the three have not shown any remorse in custody.
The probe found that the three worked at a brick kiln near the victim’s home in Kopardi village, and kept a watch on the girl as she cycled to her grandparents’ house, within a kilometre of her home, on the kuccha road.
Shorn of almost any movement, the empty road is flanked by vast acres of farmland and trees and is totally dark post-sunset since the streetlights do not function. The police believe the trio struck sometime between 7.30 pm and 8.15 pm on July 13 — when the victim was probably returning from her grandparents’.