Claiming that the fatal acid attack on Preeti Rathi had a larger impact on society, special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam sought death penalty for Ankur Panwar.
The 25-year old neighbour of Preeti was convicted on Tuesday on charges of murder and for voluntarily causing grievous hurt by use of acid. Nikam argued that the legislature had enacted sections 326A and 326B under the Indian Penal Code specifically to deal with acid attack cases since it had an impact on women in the society.
“The young girl who was looking to join her job in the Indian Navy was killed mercilessly and this offence is a glaring case of such acid attacks on women. This is a fit case for death penalty where the manner in which the offence was committed and the exceptional cruel attitude of the accused are aggravating circumstances,” Nikam argued before the special women’s court Wednesday.
Preeti Rathi had been selected for the post of lieutenant (nursing) at INHS Asvini, and was to join duty on May 2, 2013. When she alighted at Bandra Terminus, Panwar flung acid at her face.
Nikam argued that there were 14 ‘special reasons’ for the court to consider death penalty for Panwar.
“In March 2013, when Preeti got a job in Mumbai, the same month, the accused expressed his desire to marry her. When she rejected his unilateral love, he purchased sulphuric acid in April 2013 under a false pretext and 15 days before her departure from Delhi to Mumbai, approached her again, warning her not to take up the job in Mumbai. It was a well-designed plan to murder her,” Nikam told the court.
He added that Preeti had sustained serious burn injuries and was in intolerable pain for a month till her death. “She could not speak with anyone for those 30 days. She could not even express her mental pain and agony. This makes it not a simple case of murder but one worse than butchery,” Nikam said.
He also added that committing such an offence was an act of ‘sadism’ and ‘perversity’ on Panwar’s part. Nikam argued that there had been no provocation or intimidation by Rathi. “He waited till the train reached Mumbai to put his threat into action. He is a heartless person who wanted to convey a message to the victim that ‘love me or quit the world’,” he said.
Advocate Apeksha Vora, arguing for Panwar, said the mitigating circumstances for him include his young age. “There is also nothing to show that he cannot be reformed. He is not a menace to society,” Vora argued. She mentioned that Panwar had not received adequate counsel of his choice in the case.
“Panwar had not been receiving adequate facilities in prison nor had he received adequate counsel of his choice to represent him. Even till the important deposition of eyewitnesses was completed, he was not properly represented, with flimsy cross-examination done for him,” said Vora.
She said not having a competent counsel had affected his case. Panwar had been given a lawyer through legal aid services after initial representation by another criminal lawyer. Panwar had told the court he wanted to change his lawyer and brought Vora on board a few months ago.
Special Judge A S Shende also referred to a similar case of a fatal acid attack in Tamil Nadu in 2013, where the accused was given life imprisonment. Nikam argued that the case was different from the current one since the trial court had not attached much significance to the sentence. Vora, arguing for Panwar, said the Tamil Nadu case had more aggravating circumstances, and if the court had not granted death penalty in that case, Panwar too could be given life imprisonment.
The court will decide on the punishment on Thursday.
While Nikam argued that Panwar should be directed to pay a high amount as compensation to Preeti’s family, Vora opposed it, stating he had sought a lawyer from the legal services authority, showing his financial condition.
Meanwhile, a compensation of Rs 2 lakh was given to Preeti’s parents Amar Singh and Roshni Rathi by the Victim Compensation Committee headed by member Sayaji Korhale, of the District Legal Services Authority. The prosecution told the court that Rs 2 lakh had previously been paid to the family by the Maharashtra government and the Indian Railways bore the medical expenses for Preeti’s treatment.