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Asaram special jet plea

Ahmedabad, Jan. 29: Asaram Bapu has sought a Gujarat court’s permission to use a chartered plane to fly to Ahmedabad for a rape hearing from Jodhpur where he has been in jail in another sexual assault case.

The Gandhinagar chief judicial magistrate said he would announce his decision on the self-styled godman’s request, made on health grounds, on February 10.

This followed hearings today during which the prosecutor opposed the unusual plea saying “accused could not be treated as VIPs or VVIPs”.

“Accused are not graded as VIPs or VVIPs and, therefore, this court should not entertain such a request. Only the Jodhpur court can decide it,” public prosecutor R.C.V. Codekar said after Asaram’s lawyer B.M. Gupta also cited his client’s “status in the society”.

Gupta told the court that Asaram would pay for hiring the chartered plane and pointed out that there was no direct flight between Jodhpur and Ahmedabad.

In such a situation, it makes sense for Gujarat police to go to Jodhpur and bring him back in a special plane on a flight that will take barely an hour, Gupta said.

The 74-year-old godman has to appear in the Gandhinagar court for framing of charges in the rape case and identification by the victim.

A Surat woman has accused Asaram of sexually abusing her at his Ahmedabad ashram over a decade ago. Her younger sibling had made similar allegations against his son Narayan Sai, who was arrested in October last year after weeks in hiding. Sai is now in a Surat jail.

In Jodhpur, Asaram has been in jail for the past five months for allegedly raping a minor at an ashram in the Rajasthan town last year.

He suffers from severe headaches and back pain and the seven-hour road journey to Ahmedabad will be “torturous” for the septuagenarian, his spokesperson Neelam Dubey said in Ahmedabad today. “That is why we want the court to consider our prayer,” she said but added she was keeping “her fingers crossed”.

But the plea also faced technical scrutiny. Both prosecutor Codekar and Gujarat investigating officer Divya Ravya insisted that the “mode and manner” to bring the accused to Gujarat should be decided by the Jodhpur court, not the Gandhinagar magistrate.

The duty of the Gujarat court was to summon Asaram and it was up to the Jodhpur authorities to decide how to send him, Codekar contended.

Asaram was brought once from Jodhpur to Ahmedabad in October for interrogation in connection with the Gujarat rape case.

On that occasion, Gujarat police had flown him to Ahmedabad via Mumbai but he was sent back in a bus to Jodhpur jail after his remand was over. For the upcoming hearing, Asaram had requested advocate Gupta to seek the permission for the chartered plane when the lawyer met him in Jodhpur jail last month.