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Acquitting 3 accused in Chhawla rape-murder case, SC points to glaring flaws in investigation and trial

A bench of Chief Justice of India U U Lalit and Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Bela M Trivedi acquitted the three men – Rahul, Ravi Kumar and Vinod alias Chhotu – stating that the prosecution, whose case rested on circumstantial evidence, had failed to prove it.

The court also said that the Vigilance Bureau would also be at liberty to file a detailed reply by the adjourned date.

More than eight years after the brutal gangrape and murder of a girl in Delhi’s Chhawla area, the Supreme Court Monday acquitted the three accused who were found guilty by a trial court and sentended to death.

A bench of Chief Justice of India U U Lalit and Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Bela M Trivedi acquitted the three men – Rahul, Ravi Kumar and Vinod alias Chhotu – stating that the prosecution, whose case rested on circumstantial evidence, had failed to prove it.

As per the prosecution case, the trio kidnapped the girl in a red Tata Indica car near Hanuman Chowk, Qutub Vihar, Chhawla on February 9, 2012 before raping and killing her. The body was found three days later.

Highlighting some of the flaws in the investigation and trial, the bench said: “From the… evidence of the concerned witnesses, it clearly transpires that neither any T.I. (test identification) parade was conducted by the investigating officer during the course of investigation for the identification of the accused, nor any of the witnesses had identified the accused during their respective depositions before the court. Therefore, the very identity of the appellants-accused having not been duly established, the entire case of the prosecution falls flat on the very first circumstance having not been duly proved by any evidence, much less clinching evidence, against the appellants-accused.”

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It said: “As demonstrated… the evidence with regard to the arrest of the appellants-accused, their identification, discoveries and recoveries of the incriminating articles, identity of the Indica car, the seizures and sealing of the articles and collection of samples, the medical and scientific evidence, the report of DNA profiling, the evidence with regard to the CDRs (call data records) etc were not proved by the prosecution by leading, cogent, clinching and clear evidence, much less unerringly pointing the guilt of the accused.”

‘The prosecution has to bring home the charges levelled against them beyond reasonable doubt, which the prosecution has failed to do in the instant case. Resultantly, the court is left with no alternative but to acquit the accused, though involved in a very heinous crime,” it said.

Writing for the bench, Justice Trivedi said: “It may be true that if the accused involved in the heinous crime go unpunished or are acquitted, a kind of agony and frustration may be caused to the society in general and to the family of the victim in particular, however the law does not permit the courts to punish the accused on the basis of moral conviction or on suspicion alone. No conviction should be based merely on the apprehension of indictment or condemnation over the decision rendered. Every case has to be decided by the courts strictly on merits and in accordance with law without being influenced by any kind of outside moral pressures or otherwise.”

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The SC added that it “is constrained to make these observations as the court has noticed many glaring lapses having occurred during the course of the trial”.

The ruling said: “It has been noticed from the record that out of the 49 witnesses examined by the prosecution, 10 material witnesses were not cross-examined and many other important witnesses were not adequately cross-examined by the defence counsel.” Though Section 165 of the Indian Evidence Act confers unbridled powers upon the trial courts to put any question at any stage to the witnesses to elicit the truth, “the trial court also… acted as a passive umpire”, it said.

“In the instant case, material witnesses examined by the prosecution having not been either cross-examined or adequately examined, and the trial court also having acted as a passive umpire, we find that the appellants-accused were deprived of their rights to have a fair trial, apart from the fact that the truth also could not be elicited by the trial court,” the judgement said.

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The trial court had held them guilty in February 2014 and sentenced them to death. This was upheld by the Delhi High Court in August 2014.

First published on: 07-11-2022 at 15:20 IST
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