Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Hathras case: Supreme Court ‘shocked’, asks UP govt to clarify if witness protection is on and if victim’s family has a lawyer

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New Delhi (ILNS): The Supreme Court today took serious note of the events in Hathras where a 19-year-old Dalit girl was allegedly gang-raped, tortured and then killed, allegedly by four upper caste men. Adding to her family’s woes, the UP police forcibly cremated her body in the dead of night. The top court termed these events as “shocking”.

The bench of Chief Justice of India S. A. Bobde and Justices A. S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian discussed the scope of the case at the Allahabad High Court – the high court has taken suo motu cognisance of the case – and also discussed how the scope of that case could be widened.

The top court has asked the Uttar Pradesh government to file an affidavit stipulating whether the witness protection plan is in place for the Hathras case and whether the victim’s family has chosen an advocate.

The top court has asked the government to mention the points clearly in its affidavit.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the UP government, told the court that the affidavit will be filed by Thursday.

Read Also: UP govt affidavit in Supreme Court says permission was taken of Hathras family before cremation

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, arguing for the UP government, said: “The unfortunate death of a young girl shouldn’t be sensationalized. There are narratives that may impede a fair probe. Let this court monitor the probe.”

Senior Advocate Indira Jaising said she was seeking the security of the victim’s family. She said she also sought a fast-track trial in Delhi.

The Chief Justice said: “We are not saying what has happened isn’t shocking or that it isn’t unfortunate. We are currently examining the petition that has been filed here.

Reacting to Jaising’s claim, the SG reiterated that “the family (of the victim) has already been given police protection.”

At that Jaising said: “Justice can be done only by transferring the trial to Delhi.” She added that a judicial inquiry, under the supervision of a former judge, is preferable.

The CJI said: “We are hearing you because the incident is shocking and extraordinary. We are also appreciating your assistance, but you may not have the locus. Let us hear the petitioners also.”

Jaising said that technically, even the petitioners may not have the locus.

When the petitioner’s lawyer said: “We are shocked at the incident,” the CJI repeated: “Everyone is shocked. That’s okay, but when a court asks you why you are here, you have to give different reasons. We understand your anxiety, but it will be in your best interest if you keep quiet for a while.”

Then, as an advocate sought to argue on behalf of a women’s lawyer group, the CJI asked her not to duplicate the arguments. “This is a case of huge import. It is a horrible incident. But there is no need to duplicate the concerns,” he said.

The CJI asked why the Hathras case can’t be heard by the Allahabad High Court at first instance. He said: “Everything being argued here can be taken care of by the High Court. We may also get the benefit of the High Court order first. Isn’t that a better course?”

At that the SG said: “Outside courts, several narratives are being woven. All this can be stopped by monitoring and investigation by a central agency. Things are being argued here without knowing the facts. Witnesses are being protected.

“There are reporters who have been recorded as instigating the family,” said the SG. He also said that if lawyers are to be appointed as amicus, it should be a choice of this court and not some lawyers.

At that the CJI asked the UP government to file an affidavit on how the family and witnesses are being protected. He also asked if the family has a lawyer to assist them. Reiterating the importance of the case, the CJI also wanted to know what is the scope of the High Court proceedings, and “how we can widen its scope.” 

He also asked to ensure that the investigation is smooth.

The court had started hearing an appeal by a social activist for the transfer of the Hathras case to the CBI or an SIT, but the investigation has to be monitored either by the Supreme Court or a high court, with a retired or sitting judge as the head of the commission.

The top court has adjourned the hearing to next week.


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