| Principal additional advocate-general Lalit Kishore addresses the news meet at Patna High Court on Thursday. Picture by Nagendra Kumar Singh |
The state government has decided to appeal in the Supreme Court against Wednesday’s Patna High Court verdict that set aside conviction of the 26 accused in the Laxmanpur Bathe massacre.
Suspected Ranvir Sena supporters had killed 58 members of the Dalit community in the 1997 massacre.
Principal additional advocate-general (PAAG) Lalit Kishore said the appeal would be filed in the apex court at the earliest. He, however, refused to disclose the date. “The process has already started and relevant documents have been sent to the office concerned in Delhi for filling of appeal,” he said.
Kishore, however, defended the prosecution and refuted allegations that failure on the part of the investigating agency and prosecution led to the acquittal of all the 26 accused, of whom 16 were awarded capital punishment and the rest sentenced to life in jail by a trial court in Patna.
“I am not criticising the high court verdict, but the approach of the court should have been different while dealing with a case of mass killings. Of course, there were discrepancies in the statements of the prosecution witnesses but they were minor ones and should have been overlooked. The basis on which the court rejected the prosecution’s testimonial was not correct,” Kishore said.
Referring to the high court judgment, Kishore said the court gave the accused benefit of doubt on four grounds. First, the FIR was lodged over 24 hours after the incident. Second, the police did not record the statements of the victims’ relatives or eyewitnesses soon after reaching the spot on December 2, 1997. Third, the FIR reached the chief judicial magistrate’s court on December 4, 1997 (three days after the incident). And fourth, the statements of both eyewitnesses and other prosecution witnesses did not match with those given before the police.
Kishore said the court ought to have taken into account the circumstances and surroundings of the ghastly incident. “It was not an isolated case in which one or two persons were killed. In all, 58 persons, including women and children, were murdered. Imagine the trauma of a person who lost seven members of his family and somehow survived the attack. He may not have been in a mental state to give statements to the police soon after the incident,” he argued.
Kishore revealed that Binod Paswan, an informant on whose statement the FIR was lodged, had lost seven close relatives in the attack that took place around 10.30pm on December 1, 1997. Defending the prosecution, he said the police submitted the chargesheet in 1998. Nineteen people were named accused while 125 others were unidentified, the principal additional advocate general said.
The matter came up before the chief judicial magistrate’s court in January 1999. It, however, remained pending for almost nine years. Charges were framed against the accused only in December 2008. “The trial was conducted expeditiously. Altogether 99 witnesses, including 17 eyewitnesses, were cross-examined. The police had sent 50 persons for trial in the case,” he said.
Apart from the additional public prosecutors, the government had sought the assistance of two senior Supreme Court advocates, namely Ranjeet Kumar and Abhinav Mukherjee, to get the accused prosecuted, he said. According to him, the prosecution did whatever it was expected to do.
The trial court convicted all the 26 accused and handed out its verdict on April 7, 2010. “The trial was completed within two years. So it would be wrong to blame the prosecution for any lapses,” he said. The court acquitted 19 people for want of evidence.
“It is not that the accused denied the incident. They just pleaded innocence. As far as the court’s observation on identification of the accused by witnesses is concerned (court had observed it was difficult to identify the accused as the incident took place at night and there was darkness all around), I would like to say that the identity of a person can be ascertained on the basis of voice and, moreover, when the accused were either residents of the same village or neighbouring villages,” he said.
Sources in the police headquarters said the case was handed over to the criminal investigation department on December 9, 1997 on the instruction of the police headquarters. A deputy inspector general-rank officer was assigned to monitor the probe. Replying to a query, Kishore said: “The CID focused its investigation on the named accused and not on other evidences such as the involvement of other persons, who might have been left out.”
The government has filed appeals in all earlier cases of acquittals in massacre cases, Kishore said.
A division bench had on July 3, 2013, acquitted nine out of 10 accused in the Miyapur massacre case. The proscribed upper caste militia of landlords, the Ranvir Sena, allegedly killed 32 dalits in Miyapur village of Jehanabad district on June 16, 2000.
In the Nagari Bazaar massacre case, Patna High Court had on March 1, 2013, acquitted all 11 convicted persons. Eleven people belonging to Dalit and backward communities were killed in Bhojpur district in this massacre on May 11, 1998.
In the Bathani Tola massacre case, Patna High Court on April 16, 2012, acquitted all 23 persons. Some 21 people belonging to Dalit community were killed when the Ranvir Sena raided Bathani Tola village under Sahar police station of Bhojpur district, on July 11, 1996, over a wage dispute.