Punjab and Haryana High Court has granted bail to one of the prime accused Jagroop Singh in the Issewal gangrape case where a 20-year-old girl from Ludhiana was allegedly gangraped in February last year.
A case was registered against Jagroop Singh and other accused by the Ludhiana (Rural) police for gangrape, extortion, wrongful confinement, apart from other offences, including offences under the Information Technology Act for clicking nude photographs of the victim. The victim and her male friend were allegedly waylaid on Ludhiana’s Changna bridge, near village Issewal, on the South City road on the night of February 9, the windowpane of their car smashed with a brick. The victim was then allegedly dragged out and gangraped while her friend was confined in the car.
Apart from Jagroop, four others — Sadik Ali, Ajay alias Brij Nandan, Saif Ali and Surmu — were arrested in the case along with a juvenile whose trial was separated. The five accused were charged on 15 counts including gangrape, extortion, wrongful confinement and other offences by the court of Rashmi Sharma, Judge Special Court-cum-Additional Sessions Judge.
The gangrape victim, her male friend and the key witness in the case, who was an acquaintance of the duo and had received the ransom call allegedly made by Jagroop where he demanded Rs 1 lakh for their release, expressed shock at the bail granted to the prime accused in the case.
Both the prosecution and the victim, in her individual capacity, are set to approach the Supreme Court separately to challenge the bail granted to Jagroop on December 22 by Punjab and Haryana High Court judge Raj Mohan Singh.
“This is totally absurd that he (Jagroop) got the bail. This should not have happened, I did not expect this,” the victim said over phone, adding: “Jahan ek insan larai shuru karta hai, use chalna to hai hi ab. Khatam to karni hai. (When you start a crusade, you have to continue fighting till the end. I feel so unprotected that there is an accused who was sent to jail with this amount of evidence and still he comes out.”
Victim’s counsel, Hardyal Inder Singh Grewal, said, “We are filing a detailed Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court to oppose the bail. Jagroop is the mastermind of the crime. He was the person who also asked for Rs one lakh to release the victim. It is hard luck of the complainant that the prime accused got the bail.”
The bail was granted in the hearing carried out through video conferencing.
Grewal said instead of arguing, the prosecution should have submitted an affidavit in the court with point wise rebuttal of the grounds mentioned in the bail application.
“It was not that the case was going at any slow pace. We have already examined 25 witnesses. It (bail) should not have granted for this ‘most serious’ offence,” added Grewal.
Key witness in the case, who had approached police after receiving the ransom call, said,” The accused should not have come out. It is the inefficiency of the government.”
He added that the accused managed to get the bail as a junior official was sent to argue the case.
He further alleged that then ASI at Mullanpur Dakha police station Vidya Rattan refused to go to the spot initially and went only after he (Jaspreet) complained to then SHO. Rattan, who was on night duty at Mullanpur Dakha police station, was suspended for negligence, two days after the incident.
Punjab Advocate General Atul Nanda said, “We are moving the Supreme Court immediately.”
On allegations that there should have been point to point rebuttal to oppose bail plea, Nanda said, “There was point to point rebuttal. A law officer was there. Many times it is very unfortunate that the court does not record it.”
Nanda said while he did not argue the case, but he “checked it”. “I have checked it myself. It was brought to my notice…in any case we are filing an appeal (in the Supreme Court),” he added.
Commenting on grant of bail to Jagroop, Ludhiana (Rural) Senior Superintendent of Police Charanjit Singh said, “We in the police department are surprised. We are going to file special leave petition (SLP) in Supreme Court to challenge the bail.”
The witness who had received the ransom call, meanwhile, said, “I feel threatened now. Who would be responsible if he (accused) comes out and does something… used to get threats during the court hearings also.”
He said a case was registered in October last year, when some persons went to his house and threatened.
Also, in January this year, the Vigilance Bureau arrested Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI) Mool Raj posted with Ludhiana police for allegedly accepting bribe of Rs 15,000 from a man accused of threatening mother of the gangrape victim. The case was registered in April 2019.
The victim’s male friend too expressed fears about his security. “I am concerned about my security now when the prime accused against whom there were enough evidences has got bail now,” he said. In the order granting bail to Jagroop, the judge noted that “Having heard learned counsel for the parties, I am of the view that the prima facie consideration of material on record would make the petitioner entitled for regular bail, who is in custody since 12.02.2019. The material collected by the prosecution would remain debatable.”
The judge further noted, “At this stage, without commenting anything on the merits of the case, I deem it appropriate to consider the custody of the petitioner since 12.02.2019 and the prima facie consideration of material on record to be sufficient for granting regular bail to the petitioner. Petitioner is ordered to be released on bail, subject to his furnishing adequate bail bonds/surety bonds to the satisfaction of the trial Court/concerned Duty Magistrate. Nothing expressed herein above would be construed to be an expression of any opinion on merits of the case.”
The bail order referred to the arguments advanced by defence counsel that the first written complaint made by victim’s male friend “does not commensurate with the allegations in the FIR lodged by the prosecutrix (read victim) or her statement recorded under section 164 CrPC”. The defence counsel also argued that the statement by the victim was made after about 26 hours of the alleged incident.
Victim’s lawyer Grewal, while reacting on the order, said that in such cases, the victims face agony and are afraid of insult and there are ample court judgements that delay in reporting such crime is “not fatal”, in legal parlance.
The judge also referred to defence counsel’s argument that as per DNA report, no traces of semen of petitioner were found on the vaginal swabs of the victim, rather the same were allegedly found on the shirt of the victim.
The bail order also referred to defence counsel’s arguments where it questioned identification parade, distancing petitioner from the allegations of clicking nude photos of the victim and that alleged voice sample of the accused was also inadmissible piece of evidence.
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