Chief investigator regrets Vishal’s release on benefit of doubt

Kashmir Times. Dated: 6/12/2019 11:22:50 AM

Kathua minor rape, murder case

JAMMU, Jun 11 (Agencies): It was like looking for a needle in a haystack till an unusual sweat on Sanji Ram's face on a chilly January morning hinted he was hiding something, recalls R K Jalla - the chief investigator in the rape and murder case of an 8-year old girl in Kathua.
Sanji Ram, along with two others, were convicted for life on charges of rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl in Kathua by a sessions court in Pathankot on Monday.
Retired from service barely three months ago, Jalla was handed the case that was given to the crime branch on January 27, 2018. One of the most decorated Jammu and Kashmir police officers, Jalla spoke to a national news agency, recounting the challenges his team faced. “After having investigated the crime scene, we went to meet Sanji Ram (one of the main accused in the case). As I and my team started enquiring about his family members including his arrested juvenile nephew, I asked about his son Vishal. “Sanji Ram immediately conveyed to me in a boastful voice that his son was studying in Meerut and I can go and check from his CDR (Call Data Record). I started wondering about two things -- why is he insisting that I should go and check Vishal's call records and second, why the hell is he sweating on a chilly morning of January,” the 60-year-old Jalla recalled.
The sessions court in Pathankot had on Monday sentenced Sanji Ram, Deepak Khajuria and Parwesh Kumar to life and the three dismissed policemen - Anand Dutta, Tikal Raj and Surinder Singh - to five years in jail. Vishal, son of Sanji Ram, was acquitted by the court.
Jalla's only regret in the case was Vishal's release on benefit of doubt. “I can only hope that an appeal is filed challenging the acquittal,” he said. Jalla said Sanji Ram made every attempt to save his son from this case. “I can only hope that the evidence collected by the crime branch during a painstaking investigation is appreciated by High Court,” he said.
Inspector General (Crime) Ahfadul Mujtaba had already said on Monday that they would file an appeal against the acquittal of Vishal. The case had assumed political dimensions with at least two former BJP leaders Lal Singh and Ganga Singh joining a protest march on March last year during which a demand for release of Sanji Ram and others was made. The case saw straining of ties between PDP and BJP alliance government but as investigators in the case, Jalla said he “had received not a single call from any of the BJP leaders.” “There was no political pressure whatsoever on me or my team and we were doing our job with complete dedication and honesty,” he added. Jalla was part of the first batch of police officers that joined Special operations group - an anti-militancy crack forces formed in early 1990s. He retired on March 31 this year as Senior Superintendent of Police (crime branch). The officer's role was appreciated by the prosecution team comprising S S Basra, J K Chopra, Bhupinder Singh and Harminder Singh, who said Jalla had laid a strong foundation for the case that ensured defence witnesses were on the back foot. J K Chopra, who led the prosecution team along with Basra, said Jalla's dedication saw many of defence witnesses backtrack after evidence, be it technical or physical, were produced in the court. However, Jalla said it was never a one-man-show. “It is absolutely a wonderful team work where prosecution and investigators were always on the same page. It may be for the first time that the prosecution has not sought a single adjournment in the case,” he said. The officer, with a smile, also added that this case made him revisit all that had been taught to him during training at the police academy.
On Monday, IGP Ahfadul Mujtaba of the state police Crime Branch, which investigated the horrific gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl of a nomadic tribe in January 2018, had said the police would challenge the acquittal of the seventh accused “if needed.” The IGP had talked of challenging the acquittal of one accused while welcoming the conviction of six others. The IGP, while welcoming the verdict, had said the police were yet to get the copy of the judgment. “Once we examine it and if needed, we will challenge it in the Punjab and Haryana High Court,” Mujtaba had said. “Actually (seventh accused) Vishal had taken the alibi that he was not present there (at the scene of the crime), though we have eyewitnesses' account of his presence there. We have eyewitnesses who said he was very much there on the day of the incident,” the IGP said. The court, however, has accepted his alibi, said the IGP, adding the police would examine under what circumstances Vishal was acquitted. Asked how the police tackled the difficult situation and carried out the investigation amid the highly polarised atmosphere, the Crime Branch chief had said, “Any professional investigating agency will go by witnesses and evidence.” “When you go to a court of law, it has to be judged as per the evidence. You cannot bring a cock and bull story and present it to the court. You have to work on the merits and the evidence of the case,” he said. Terming the case as a "challenging" one, the IGP said the police had presented 114 prosecution witnesses before the court despite several problems.
“Ensuring the witnesses to be present in the court every day was quite a challenge, so was ensuring their safety and protection,” Mujtaba had said. “But we succeeded in securing the conviction of the six out of seven accused,” he had added. Asked about some defence lawyers' statement that they would challenge the conviction of the six accused, the IGP said everybody had the right to go to the higher court. “The case has to be fought in the court, not in the streets. If needed, we will also move the high court against the acquittal of one accused,” the IGP said.
The father of the victim too had said his family was expecting that the culprits would be handed down death penalty. He also expressed unhappiness over the acquittal of the seventh accused. “We were expecting that they (culprits) will be hanged for the heinous crime which they have committed with my daughter,” Mohammad Akhtar, biological father of the minor, had told a national news agency over phone from the upper reaches of Verinag in Anantnag district of South Kashmir.
The family is presently on bi-annual migration in search of greener pastures in the Valley. Reacting to the judgement, he had said they were surprised over the acquittal of one of the main accused, Vishal, by the court. “I have been hearing all along that he is one of the main culprits, then why was he released,” he asked. However, he quickly added that it was the “will of God and what can we do.”
On the fast track trial of the case, he said, “We were earlier told that we will get justice within 90 days. After waiting for all these months, we were hoping that the culprits behind the incident will meet the same fate (death)... We welcome the judgement but are not unable to come to terms with one of the accused being set free.”



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