New Delhi: The Supreme Court Tuesday directed the Uttar Pradesh government to submit a fresh affidavit on whether it has put in place a witness protection plan for the family of the 20-year-old alleged gang rape and assault victim in Hathras and other witnesses in the case.
Earlier in the day, the Yogi Adityanath government had filed an affidavit requesting the top court to order a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the alleged crime. This affidavit was filed in response to a PIL seeking a CBI investigation or a Special Investigation Team (SIT) probe, monitored by a sitting or retired Supreme Court or high court judge, into the case.
The victim, a Dalit woman from Hathras’ Boolgarhi village, died on 29 September after being allegedly gang-raped and assaulted by four upper caste men two weeks earlier.
In the latest hearing, a bench led by Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde also asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to stipulate if the victim’s family has chosen a lawyer or not. No formal notice was, however, issued to the Uttar Pradesh government.
To the court’s order to file a fresh affidavit, Mehta said it will be done in the next two days.
“I am not opposing the petition. There are narratives and narratives in the public domain. Let us not sensationalise the death of a young girl. Investigation should just be fair and impartial,” Mehta contended in his brief submission during the hearing.
He maintained the stance the Uttar Pradesh government has taken in its first affidavit and said the state’s approach in the case was not adversarial. Mehta also claimed that a reporter had instigated the victim’s family to put forth a specific statement and said some lawyers have already met them.
The bench later sought to know the scope of suo motu proceedings pending in the Allahabad High Court in connection with the case. “We also want a suggestion from all of you as to the scope of the proceedings in Allahabad and how we can make them more relevant.”
The matter was later listed for hearing next week.
‘Victim’s family under protection’
During the hearing, Mehta rued the fact that a different narrative has been given to the incident by “all kinds of people and political parties”.
“Your lordships must supervise the investigation and the purpose of it must not be lost,” he said.
Senior advocate Indira Jaising then argued for the family’s protection and said a fair investigation warranted it. Appearing for around 100 women lawyers, who recently requested the CJI to take up suo motu cognisance of the case, Jaising said the safety of the family was “highly important”.
CJI Bobde, however, was sceptical about invoking the top court’s jurisdiction in the case, particularly in view of the matter pending before the Allahabad High Court. “This is shocking and we are not denying this. We are talking about invoking our jurisdiction,” the CJI said, seeking clarity on the issue.
Jaisingh clarified that the women lawyers will not interfere in the proceedings before the high court. However, she said, the family of the victim should be protected under the witness protection plan, as directed by the Supreme Court in an earlier judgment.
At this, Mehta said the family was already protected. “You may not be aware but police protection was given to the victim’s family,” he told the bench.
Jainsing then urged the bench to constitute an SIT in the case because the victim’s family has not reposed faith in a CBI probe.
CJI questions locus of petitioners
During the hearing, CJI Bobde twice questioned the locus of the PIL petitioner and women lawyers who Jaising represented. “We appreciate your presence and we do not want to be misunderstood, but we are wondering if you even have locus in this criminal case,” the CJI asked Jaising.
Later, when advocate Kirti Singh advanced arguments on behalf of the PIL petitioner, the CJI also asked her, “There is no doubt this incident is shocking. But the question is of locus. Why are you here?”
The CJI clarified that the court was in no way condoning the incident. “It is a horrible incident but the question is how many similar arguments should we hear. Court of law need not hear the same argument by every party,” he added.
On Jaising’s request to appoint a lawyer for the family from the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA), the CJI said, “We will appoint a good lawyer. The CJI is patron-in-chief of NALSA. You give us names of one senior and one junior advocate.”