The High Court of Bombay in Goa on Wednesday suspended a bailable warrant issued against the victim by the Mapusa fast-track court, which is hearing the rape case against Tarun Tejpal, after she challenged it.
On September 4, the fast-track court at Mapusa, Goa, which is hearing the Tejpal rape case, issued a bailable warrant against the victim, authorising the investigating officer from Goa Police to execute the warrant.
The court of Additional Sessions Judge Kshama Joshi issued the warrant after it heard and rejected two applications by the victim asking the court to exempt her physical presence in court, as her health conditions do not permit her to travel during the pandemic. The warrant was issued with a bond of Rs 5,000, with sufficient sureties for the victim’s attendance in court for her cross-examination in the case.
In an urgent order, Justice Dama Seshadri Naidu suspended the warrant but stated, “The stay, however, is confined only to suspension of the warrant. The trial may go on unhindered.”
Initially, the warrant was issued returnable on September 7 but was returned after being sent to the victim’s Mumbai address, as listed in the chargesheet. It was then reissued to New Delhi, where the victim currently resides.
The matter was heard out of turn as an emergency listing by HC, since the fresh bailable warrant was returnable by Thursday (September 10). “…the petitioner herself is a victim who lives in Delhi. She points out that recently she had an attack of severe lung infection. Therefore she does not want to undertake any journey during the pandemic,” Justice Naidu noted in his order.
The court of ASJ Joshi had initially summoned the victim in the case to be present for cross-examination on September 2.
The victim’s response throughemail was submitted to the court along with an application to exempt her from physical appearance. The court kept the order on September 3 and dismissed it, asking her to be present on September 4.
Having again identified herself as the sole caregiver to her parent and in-laws, all of whom are senior citizens and high-risk suspects during the pandemic, and stating about her lung condition, the victim asked permission to be present at Goa Sadan in Delhi for a video conference link to the court, with the cross-examination at her end monitored by a independent, impartial official authority appointed by the court.
Rejecting the appeal, the trial court explained that video-conferencing with sketchy internet networks in Goa cannot be a substitute.
After the victim failed to appear again, the bailable warrant was issued on September 4 to secure her presence.
In his order, Justice Naidu noted that the victim requested the trial court to examine her through video conference. The court is expected to hear the victim’s plea for a video conference link before it disposes of the case, as it accepted her prayer.
Meanwhile, the lower court on Wednesday allowed three formal witnesses to be examined on video link mode as an experiment to check whether it can be substituted, but found the inefficient online networks inconvenient, especially with material witnesses scheduled soon.
Many fresh witnesses, all of whom are from outside the state, have expressed their inability to attend court, as they are afraid of exposing themselves to Covid-19 infection during travel; a few are stuck abroad and many others have pointed to high air-flight charges between New Delhi and Goa.
The IO, who is supposed to execute the warrant, has gone into home isolation for Covid-19, and is expected to go for a Covid test herself on Thursday.
Till date, the victim has faced examination-in-chief since March 15 and been cross-examined between October 21, 2019 and March 19 this year. Earlier, she had approached the HC, alleging that “scandalous” and “irrelevant questions” being asked by Tejpal’s lawyers during cross-examination at the trial court. While an interim order has been passed directing the defence lawyers not to ask questions prohibited under law, a final order is yet to be passed.
Tejpal, the former editor-in-chief of Tehelka, is now stationed in Goa and has been present on all days since September 2.
Tejpal faces charges under IPC Sections 341 (wrongful restraint), 342 (wrongful confinement), 354 (assault or criminal force with intent to outrage modesty), 354A (sexual harassment), 354B (assault or use of criminal force to woman with intent to disrobe), 376 (2)(f) (person in position of authority over women, committing rape) and 376(2)(k) (rape by person in position of control).
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