SC calls Hathras rape incident “extraordinary, shocking”, asks UP Govt to reply on witness protection
NEW DELHI—Calling the Hathras alleged gangrape case and murder of a 19-year-old Dalit woman a “extra-ordinary and shocking”, the Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Up government to file a reply with regard to witness protection.
The apex court made issued the order while hearing a petition seeking an independent investigation into the Hathras gang-rape case to next week. The petition was filed by Senior Advocate Indira Jaising.
The Bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian directed the Uttar Pradesh government to file an affidavit containing details on the protection offered to witnesses, and whether the victim’s family has chosen a lawyer to represent them.
The Court also asked for suggestions on how the scope of the proceedings before the Allahabad High Court can be widened.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the State of Uttar Pradesh, told the Court that he was not opposed to the petition. He said,
“There are narratives and narratives, but the sad truth is that a young girl has lost her life.”
Mehta went on to submit that there must be a free and fair trial in the case, and the investigation should be monitored by the Apex Court.
Senior Advocate Indira Jaising then urged the Court to grant witness protection to the victim’s family and order transfer of the trial. She added that no lawyer should be allowed to solicit in this case.
In response to this, CJI Bobde asked, “Are you asking for the trial to be transferred or the investigation to be transferred? The incident is very extraordinary and shocking that is why we are hearing you, but otherwise, we are not sure if you have locus in this criminal case.”
After appreciating Jaising’s assistance, the Court said that it would like to hear the petitioner on the question of locus.
Advocate Pradeep Kumar Yadav, appearing for the petitioner, who is a retired judge, said,
“I am also a woman and the incident has shocked us all.”
CJI Bobde then requested the lawyers not to “duplicate concerns”, saying,“This does not in any way mean that we are condoning the incident. This is a horrible incident but all we are saying is that the court of law need not hear the same argument repeated by every party. This is not a comment on the incident. Please understand our point of view.”
Singh then responded that she wanted the letter to be listed before the Court. When CJI Bobde asked her why she didn’t approach the Allahabad High Court, which took suo motu cognisance of the case, Singh replied that the investigation had been transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). CJI Bobde then said,“Yes, we understand, but the Allahabad High Court is a Constitutional Court and is hearing another matter in the incident.”
When Jaising pressed for witness protection in the case, SG Mehta replied that the witnesses are already under protection.
The Court then proceeded to ask Mehta details of the witness protection afforded, and whether the victim’s family has chosen a lawyer. CJI Bobde added,
“We want to know from all of you what is the present scope of the Allahabad High Court’s proceedings and want suggestions from you all on how we can widen the scope of the proceedings before the High Court.”
Noting that SG Mehta does not wish to treat this as adversarial litigation, the Court suggested that the parties make suggestions to the law officer.
Mehta added, “And I hope all those concerned do not sensationalise this unfortunate incident outside the Court…I’m only requesting for decorum to be maintained even out of the Court.”
Stating that it will ensure that the investigation is smooth, the Court proceeded to adjourn the hearing for next week.
Petition to seek investigation against Police officials, district magistrate of Hathras
Following the horrific Hathras incident, a retired judicial officer moved the Supreme Court seeking an investigation against the police officials and the District Magistrate responsible for the forced cremation of the Dalit victim.
The petitioner, Chandra Bhan Singh, is a retired judicial officer who served in the judicial system for over 25 years.
The petition seeks for the investigation in the case to be conducted by an agency other than the State Police. It is also prayed that if the allegations concerning undignified and inhuman treatment of the body of the deceased victim are found to be true, then FIRs ought to be registered against the concerned officials.
Singh further claims that the right of the family to cremate the victim according to their practices and rituals under Article 25 of the Constitution stands violated.
The petitioner also invokes Article 21 of the Constitution and asks whether or not the meaning of “person” to whom the right to life is guaranteed will include a person’s right to dignity in death.
A 19-year-old Dalit girl was gang-raped and brutally injured in Hathras on September 14. She succumbed to her injuries at Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital on September 29. When her mortal remains were taken to her native place, the UP Police and administration allegedly cremated her body forcefully without the family’s consent or their presence, in the dead of the night.