The Supreme Court on July 1, 2018 granted liberty to three witnesses, who had alleged harassment at the hands of special investigation team (SIT) probing Kathua gang rape and murder case, to approach the Jammu and Kashmir High Court with their grievances.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra took note of the submissions of the Jammu and Kashmir government that the three witnesses have already been re-examined and “treated as witnesses” and the police had never thought of “implicating them as accused persons”.
The three witnesses, Sahil Sharma, Sachin Sharma and Neeraj Sharma, who were the classmates of one of the key accused in college, had alleged harassment by the SIT and had sought an independent enquiry into it.
The court was hearing the matter relating to the gang rape and murder of an eight-year old girl, belonging to a minority nomadic community, who had disappeared from near her home in a village close to Kathua in the Jammu region on January 10. Her body was found in the same area a week later.
“On a perusal of the prayer clause, it is perceptible that the petitioners have prayed for directing an enquiry against the authorities for the torture and the sufferings that have been meted out to them. The said factum has been disputed by senior counsel appearing on behalf of the State and an affidavit to that extent has been filed.
“In view of the aforesaid, we think it appropriate to grant liberty to the petitioners to move the concerned High Court for redressal of the grievances by taking recourse to appropriate remedy,” the bench, also comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, said while disposing off their plea.
The bench also made it clear that granting liberty to the witnesses to move the high court “should not be construed as an expression of any kind of doubt with regard to the investigation process” and disposed of their plea.
Senior advocate Gopal Subramanium and advocate Shoeb Alam, appearing for the Jammu and Kashmir government, informed the court that the witnesses have already been re-examined and their statements have been re-recorded and it was never considered to make them accused in the matter.
Earlier, the apex court had allowed the three college students to be accompanied by their relatives during their further questioning by the Jammu and Kashmir Police.
The top court, which had rejected the plea for videography during the quizzing of the three witnesses by the Crime Branch, had asked the police to carry out the probe in “fair manner”.
The students, aged between 19 and 20 years, had alleged that they were harassed and coerced by the police and summoned to re-record their statements.
The court had also allowed the state government to file a status report in gangrape and murder case of the minor girl after it was alleged that the three college friends of accused Vishal Jangotra might have misled the probe.
The students have alleged that they were tortured and threatened by the Crime Branch of the state police during the probe and sought protection by a central agency.
The Jammu-based students, who are pursuing B.Sc in Agriculture at a college in Muzzafarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, are classmates of Jangotra, the plea said.
The students alleged that they were “coerced to make statements contrary to the facts that Jangotra was with them at Muzzafarnagar from January 7 to February 10. During that period, he, along with the petitioners, attended examinations and practical papers”.
“The petitioners were subjected to physical and mental torture from March 19 to March 31 by the respondents (state police officers),” the plea had claimed.
The petitioners had also sought Rs 50 lakh each as compensation for the “physical and mental agony and loss of study and future prospects”.
The apex court had transferred the trial in the Kathua gangrape and murder case from Jammu and Kashmir to Pathankot in Punjab, but had refrained from handing over the probe to the Central Bureau of Investigation saying there was no need as the investigation had been conducted and the charge sheet filed.
The top court, which ordered a day-to-day “in-camera” trial in the case, had said there was a need to shift the trial outside the state as “fear and fair trial” were contradictory and “cannot be allowed to co-exist.”
The state police has filed the main charge sheet against seven persons and a separate charge sheet against a juvenile in a court in Kathua district.