The Supreme Court on Wednesday held that one of the accused in the sensational gang-rape and murder case of an eight-year-old nomadic girl in Kathua was not a juvenile at the time of the offence and now can be tried afresh as an adult.
The top court also held that medical opinion regarding the age of an accused cannot be “brushed aside” in the absence of statutory proof on the same issue.
“Medical opinion regarding age in absence of any other conclusive evidence should be considered to determine the age range of the accused…Whether medical evidence can be relied upon or not depends on the value of evidence,” a bench of justices Ajay Rastogi and J B Pardiwala said.
It set aside the orders of the Chief Judicial Magistrate at Kathua and the high court which had held that the accused Shubam Sangra was a juvenile and hence to be tried separately.
“We set aside the judgements of the CJM Kathua and the high court and hold that the accused was not a juvenile at the time of commission of offence,” Justice Pardiwala said while pronouncing the verdict.
The minor girl was kidnapped on January 10, 2018 and was raped in captivity in a small village temple after keeping her sedated for four days. She was later bludgeoned to death.
The top court, on February 7, 2020, had stayed the proceedings before the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) against Sangra.
It had stayed the proceedings after the Jammu and Kashmir administration claimed that the Jammu and Kashmir High Court had erroneously affirmed the order of a trial court holding him as juvenile at the time of the offence in 2018..
Senior advocate P S Patwalia, appearing for the J-K administration, had said the high court had on October 11, 2019, wrongly affirmed the trial court order of March 27, 2018, without appreciating that the date of birth recorded in the municipal and school records are contradictory to each other.
He had said that despite the notice to the ‘minor’ accused issued by the apex court on January 6, 2020 on the administration’s appeal, the JJB has continued its proceedings against the accused, treating him as a juvenile.
Patwalia had contended that the accused, then treated as juvenile, was one of the main conspirators of the entire incident and kidnapped, gang-raped and murdered the victim.
The union administration (UT) had said the medical board constituted by the high court by its order of February 21, 2018 had opined that the accused was aged between 19 and 23 years at the time of offence.
The JJB had in 2019 framed charges against the ‘minor’ and continued with the proceedings of examination of prosecution witnesses.
The top court on May 7, 2018 had transferred the trial of the case from Kathua in Jammu to Pathankot in Punjab and ordered for day-to-day trial after some lawyers prevented the Crime Branch officials from filing a charge sheet in the sensational case.
The special court on June 10, 2019 sentenced three men to life imprisonment till last breath for the ghastly crime that shook the nation.
Sanji Ram, the mastermind and caretaker of the ‘devasthanam’ (temple) where the crime took place in January, 2018; Deepak Khajuria, a Special Police Officer, and Parvesh Kumar, a civilian — the three main accused –were spared death penalty, a punishment sought by the prosecution during the year-long in-camera trial in the court.
The three given life term were convicted under Ranbir Penal Code (RPC) sections relating to criminal conspiracy, murder, kidnapping, gang rape, destruction of evidence, drugging the victim and common intention.
The other three accused — Sub Inspector Anand Dutta, Head Constable Tilak Raj and special police officer Surender Verma — were convicted for destruction of evidence to cover up the crime and handed down five years in jail and Rs 50,000 fine each.
The trial court had acquitted the seventh accused Vishal Jangotra, son of Sanji Ram, giving him the ‘benefit of doubt’.