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Supreme Court weighs in, Jharkhand HC orders SIT probe into hit-and-run death of Dhanbad judge

The Jharkhand High Court has set up a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the killing of ASJ Uttam Anand, 50, who was knocked down while on his morning walk Wednesday by an auto-rickshaw that visibly veered sharply towards him on an empty road.

A videograb of CCTV footage just before the auto rammed into ASJ Uttam Anand

THE death of an Additional Sessions Judge of Dhanbad in what police suspect was a premeditated hit-and-run incident echoed in the Supreme Court Thursday with Chief Justice of India N V Ramana saying that he has spoken to the Jharkhand High Court Chief Justice in this regard.

The Jharkhand High Court has set up a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the killing of ASJ Uttam Anand, 50, who was knocked down while on his morning walk Wednesday by an auto-rickshaw that visibly veered sharply towards him on an empty road.

Jharkhand police officials told The Indian Express that they are investigating the possibility of the incident being linked to an order or any action by the judge. No link has yet been revealed, said sources.

According to local court records examined by The Indian Express, ASJ Anand passed 36 orders in July, of which 34 pertained to regular or anticipatory pleas for bail in cases ranging from murder to coal smuggling — he allowed the pleas in six.

On Thursday, police detained autorickshaw drivers Lakhan Verma and Rahul Verma who, they said, were nabbed with the “stolen auto” that hit the judge. “Lakhan and Rahul have said that they drove the autorickshaw that hit the judge.

However, the motive is not clear yet. The auto was stolen from Jharia on Tuesday night. Both are being questioned and will be arrested and sent to judicial custody,” Bokaro DIG Mayur Patel said.

“Lakhan Verma has previously been booked for theft. There are contradictions in their statements. We are investigating,” he said. Patel is part of the three-member SIT headed by ADG (Operations) Sanjay Anand Latkar and also includes Dhanbad SSP Sanjeev Kumar.

“We are not ruling out the possibility of the killing being related to orders passed by the judge recently. We are tracking the activity of people mentioned in those orders,” officials said.

In the Supreme Court, the matter was raised before a bench of CJI Ramana and Justice Surya Kant by senior advocate Vikas Singh, president of Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), who had described the incident earlier as an “attack on judicial independence”.

“I spoke to the Chief Justice of Jharkhand High Court. He has taken up the case and all officers are asked to be present. Now leave it there. If it’s necessary then we will involve (ourselves),” the CJI told Singh.

Singh sought a CBI probe to find out if the hit-and-run was a “murder” in retaliation for the judge rejecting the “bail applications of gangsters”. The bench asked him not to draw conclusions. “We are aware of it. Let the HC look at it”, the CJI said.

Dhanbad court records show that the 36 orders passed by ASJ Anand in July also cover cases of alleged sexual harassment, sale of fake lottery tickets and the alleged diversion of scholarships meant for minority school students, which was investigated by The Indian Express.

In the six cases in which he granted bail, the period of custody was the main ground. In the remaining cases, he rejected the pleas for regular and anticipatory bail, citing the nature of the crime.

Consider some of the key orders passed by ASJ Anand this month:

* Murder: Rejected bail plea of Shekhar Kumar Rawani, a gangster accused in the murder of a man identified as Vinod Jha. Rawani is in custody since February 28, and a chargesheet has been filed in the case. The order said it appears the petitioner worked as the henchman of a history-sheeter identified as Mintu Kashyap who had “developed animosity” with Jha. According to police, Kashyap had links with the Guddu Shukla gang and was arrested on June 28 in the Jha murder case. He died earlier this month.

* Minorities scholarship scam: Rejected the bail application of a school principal. “This is basically a document-based case…probe was required to be widened to look into the role of Bank Officers, State Label Officer of Minority Scholarship, District Education Officer…investigation is still in progress.”

The orders also cover cases of alleged sexual harassment, sale of fake lottery tickets and use of false number plates by liquor smugglers to Bihar and rioting.

ASJ Anand was also the Motor vehicle Accidents Claims Tribunal judge. In one of these cases, the vehicle involved was an autorickshaw, and the judge observed that there was “rash and negligent driving”. He awarded Rs 9 lakh in compensation to the deceased’s family. In another case at the tribunal, he had awarded Rs 68 lakh to the wife of an accident victim.

According to local police, Wednesday’s hit-and-run occurred at Randhir Verma Chowk. Around 5.30 am, police said, a passerby took Anand to Shahid Nirmal Mahto Medical College and Hospital where he succumbed to a serious head injury.

In the Supreme Court, Vikas Singh had initially mentioned the matter before a bench headed by Justice D Y Chandrachud. “It is shocking. A judge is on a morning walk and is hit by a vehicle. He was dealing with bail applications of gangsters. This is an attack on judicial independence,” said Singh.

The bench asked him to bring it to the attention of the CJI.

ASJ Anand joined the judicial services on May 29, 2002, and was previously posted in Bokaro. He took charge as ASJ Dhanbad on September 18 last year. His wife Kriti Sinha has submitted a complaint to police citing CCTV footage to say that “it appears the autorickshaw driver, in a pre-planned manner, hit him on his head which led to his death”.

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