SC query on plea for trial transfer

Supreme Court. Picture by Prem Singh

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Jammu and Kashmir government to respond to a plea to transfer the Kathua gang rape-and-murder trial to Chandigarh and directed the administration to beef up security for the eight-year-old victim's family.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud also ordered adequate protection for advocate Deepika Singh Rajawat, who has taken up the victim's case, and a person called Talib Hussain, who has been helping the family.

"As an interim measure, it is directed that the Jammu and Kashmir government will beef up security to the family and others and provide security to them," the bench said.

Police have till now charged eight persons, including a juvenile, with abducting and gang-raping the girl in Kathua district in January this year and later killing her.

Two BJP ministers in the Jammu and Kashmir government have had to resign for defending the accused.

The girl's father and lawyer Rajawat had moved the top court for transferring the trial to Chandigarh, saying the hostile environment in the state was not conducive for a free and fair trial.

Advocate Soheb Alam, who appeared for the state, said a chargesheet had already been filed but the government "should be heard" before any order is passed on the transfer plea.

The court then fixed April 27 for further hearing so that the state could come up with its response.

The bench, however, made it clear that it would not allow any intervention application after senior advocate and J&K Panthers Party leader Bhim Singh pleaded that the matter be entrusted to an independent agency like the CBI.

Senior advocate Indira Jaising, who appeared for the victim's family, opposed Singh's plea, saying the girl's father had filed the petition and it was not a public interest litigation that anybody could intervene.

The senior counsel also said she had never in her long career come across such an excellent investigation by local police in any state and opposed the plea for transferring the case to the CBI.

Singh tried hard to convince the court that the case must be transferred to the central probe agency.

But Justice Misra said: "We will only deal with the aspect of witness protection and fair trial. These two principles will guide us."

On Jaising's request, the bench also directed the state government to strengthen security at the juvenile home where the minor accused is being held.

The victim's father had claimed that politicians were regularly visiting the boy in the state-run home.

Jaising told the court that besides preventing the police from filing the chargesheet, the local Bar and its members have been threatening Rajawat with dire consequences for appearing for the victim's family.

State counsel Alam told the court that the administration had already provided five police personnel for the protection of the family and assured that necessary protection would be accorded to Rajawat and Talib Hussain, who has been helping the family.


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