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Minimum term for Park St convicts, lawyer removed

(From left) Ruman Khan, Sumit Bajaj and Naser Khan come out of the court on Friday after they were sentenced to 10 years in prison. Pictures by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya

The three men held guilty in the Park Street gangrape case were sentenced to 10 years in prison on Friday. The state lawyer did not seek the maximum punishment for them on the ground that they were not the prime accused.

Naser Khan, 31, Ruman Khan, 28 and Sumit Bajaj, 24, had been convicted by the additional district sessions judge of fast track court II on Thursday.

Late on Friday, amid a furore over the special public prosecutor Sarbani Roy's submission in court, the government removed her from the state panel and said what she said in the courtroom was her opinion and not the state's.

Roy, in her last argument before the punishment was pronounced, said the three were not the prime accused in the case and were not directly involved in the commission of the offence and hence she would not seek punishment higher than the minimum punishment of 10 years in jail. The maximum punishment for gangrape is life imprisonment.

Law minister Chandrima Bhattacharya told Metro: "Special public prosecutor Sarbani Roy was not instructed by the state to make such a statement. It is her personal opinion. It is for the judge to weigh the merit of a case and pass the judgment. It was wrong on behalf of Roy who was representing the state to seek minimum punishment for the three who have already been declared guilty by the judge. As a result we feel she has lost the eligibility to remain in the panel of state lawyers. She has been removed."

Based on the victim's complaint, Ruman Khan and Naser Khan had been charged with gangraping, conspiring, intimidating and assaulting the victim in a Honda City that Sumit Bajaj was driving. Bajaj was charged only with gangrape.

The submission on Friday marks a change from what the prosecution had said earlier during the trial. The prosecution had presented more than 50 witnesses in court to strengthen the case. Having failed to capture prime accused Kadir Khan, investigators had emphasised on the presence of the arrested trio at the scene of crime and their roles.

The court order says that "although there is provision of life imprisonment but considering the fact that the accused persons are not principal offenders" the public prosecutor "is not praying for the maximum penalty".

"The three were not the prime accused in this case.... Kadir Khan is still absconding. These three were not directly involved in the commission of the offence. The minimum punishment for this offence is 10 years, but I did not recommend a higher punishment," Sarbani Roy told Metro.#

The investigating agency usually tries to collate as much evidence as possible and the prosecution appeals for the highest punishment. Joint commissioner (crime) Pallab Kanti Ghosh refused comment on the matter. "I am yet to get a copy of the judgment.... I will be able to comment only after getting that," Ghosh said.

According to the law, the section of gang rape can be slapped on any person who is present at a spot where a woman is being raped and does not protest the crime.

"A person present at the scene of rape without protesting the crime can be held as culpable as the person committing the offence. It is surprising how the special public prosecutor could say that the three were not directly involved in the crime," said a senior officer of the detective department.

Both the prosecution and the defence were asked to make their last argument before the judge pronounced the punishment. The trio were also allowed to make submissions.

All three sought the minimum punishment, saying they had been "framed". Sumit Bajaj cited his age and academic background as an excuse, Naser Khan cited the death of his father and his urge to complete his education and Ruman Khan cited his dependent sister and ailing parents.

On Friday, the court proceedings had begun at 2.10pm. After hearing the submissions from both the sides, judge Chiranjib Bhattacharya postponed the verdict till 3pm. He resumed his chair around 3.25pm and pronounced the punishment.

In the order, the judge labels the crime as "anger rape". " ...this is not a case of simple rape on a lonely woman by some lusty young persons.... The entire circumstance clearly speaks out that the real intention of the accused persons was not to quench their lust but to teach the victim a lesson as, in their estimation, she committed an offence by remaining alone in a nightclub in the dead hours of the night. It cannot be denied that in conservative society, from the very childhood children are taught that partying at night, consuming liquor are the prerogatives of the men, and the women indulged in those activities are of loose moral and deserve abhorrence from the society. Facts of this case clearly show that the incident of gang rape is an outcome of their anger towards the victim."

Public prosecutor Amalendu Chakraborty said the court slapped on the three a fine for gangrape of Rs 1 lakh each. Non-payment of the fine would result in an additional imprisonment of six months. A fine of Rs 10,000 each was imposed for criminal conspiracy. Failure to pay this fine would attract an additional imprisonment of one month. For charges of assault and criminal intimidation, fines of Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 each have been imposed in lieu of an additional imprisonment of one month and 15 days, respectively.

Since the trio have been in jail since the past three years and 10 months, this period would be deducted from the 10-year imprisonment duration.

"The judge observed that the fine collected this way would be handed over to the two daughters of the victim since she has passed away," said the public prosecutor.

Naser Khan's brother said they would appeal against the verdict in high court.


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