Day 4 Arguments: 2 August 2019

Today, a two judge bench of the Supreme Court - comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Deepak Gupta - monitored the implementation of its orders in the Unnao rape matter. The court deferred airlifting the victim to Delhi until Monday, after considering the opinion of the victim's mother. It ordered the immediate transfer of the victim's uncle (a key witness) from Raebareli jail, Uttar Pradesh to Tihar jail, Delhi on safety concerns. It also suspended its order transferring the fifth Unnao case (car accident), until the conclusion of investigation procedures within the next seven to fifteen days. 

 

Background

In 2018, a 17-year-old girl was allegedly raped by BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar. The case against him is on-going and he is currently in jail. On 28 July, a speeding truck struck a car containing the victim, her family and their lawyer. Two of the victim's aunts were killed. The victim and her lawyer are on life support.

 

On 30 July, media reports emerged that the victim's family had written a letter to the Chief Justice nearly two weeks earlier detailing their victimisation. On 31 July, the Chief Justice took cognisance of the letter and immediately listed the matter for hearing. On 1 August, a bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Deepak Gupta issued several orders for the speedy and fair investigation of cases and the protection and welfare of the victim and her family. 

 

The court has clubbed the Unnao matter with a suo moto writ petition pertaining to the implementation of the POCSO Act. The suo moto petition pertains to drafting guidelines for the speedy disposal of child sex abuse cases. Prior to the Unnao car crash, the court was focused on the macro implementation of the Act and did not focus on any individual cases. On 25 July, it had directed the setting up of special courts - within 60 days - in districts having more than 100 POCSO cases. The Union government was required to submit a progress report within 4 weeks and the next hearing was listed on 26 September. It appears that now the court will be hearing the two matters side-by-side.

 

Today's hearing

The court began the hearing with inquiries about the victim's medical status. Yesterday, it had directed the counsel for the victim's family to submit their views on airlifting the victim to Delhi for advanced medical treatment. The counsel for the victim's family submitted that the victim's mother currently did not want the victim to be airlifted to Delhi. However, she had requested the option of moving the victim to remain open, if the need arose.  

 

Chief Justice Gogoi inquired about the status of the victim's lawyer, who is also in a critical condition after the car crash. Amicus curiae V Giri requested that the lawyer be transferred to Delhi. He submitted that he was unable to communicate with the lawyer's father and only spoke to a younger sibling. Chief Justice Gogoi inquired whether the lawyer was conscious. V Giri responded in the negative.

 

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted that the transfer of the fifth case to Delhi was creating problems of jurisdiction and competence for the Judicial Magistrate, CBI Lucknow. The Judicial Magistrate was unable to pass remand orders and other orders necessary for carrying out the investigation. Therefore, the Solicitor General requested the court to postpone the transfer order of the fifth case until the completion of the investigation. 

 

The bench then turned its attention to the State of Uttar Pradesh. The State submitted that it had transferred the exemplary Rs 25 lakh compensation to the victim. Further, it submitted that the victim's uncle, a key witness, is safe in Raebareli jail, Uttar Pradesh. However, it expressed no objection to him being transferred to Tihar jail, New Delhi.


V Giri expressed concerns over the media's disclosure of the victim's identity. He submitted that the media broadcast old interviews of the victim and effectively disclosed her identity. He further submitted that under section 23 of the POCSO Act, disclosing the identity of a victim in a child sexual abuse case is a prohibited offence.

 

Chief Justice Gogoi issued the following orders:

  1. The victim shall temporarily remain in Lucknow due to her family's hesitation to move her. However, her family retains the option to have her airlifted to Delhi for advanced medical treatment. If necessary, the counsel for the victim's family and V Giri may mention the matter urgently before the court through the Solicitor General at any time.
  2. The victim's uncle must be immediately transferred to Tihar jail, New Delhi. 
  3. The transfer of the fifth case to Delhi is postponed until the completion of the ongoing investigation. This is granted to enable the local CBI court to investigate the case without jurisdiction and competency issues. 
  4. Print and electronic media must abstain from publishing interviews or any other material which may reveal the victim's identity.

 

The matter is listed for Monday, 5 August. 

(Court reporting by Srujana Bej)