On 9 February 2012, Kiran Negi, a resident of Qutub Vihar, Phase II in Dwarka in south-west Delhi, was returning home from her work with two other girls. She was about to reach home, when she was accosted and then kidnapped by three persons in a red Tata Indica. A bystander named Vikas Rawat tried to intervene but was outnumbered.
After the police complaint, three persons- Rahul, 26, Ravi and Vinod, both 22- were picked up. The body of Kiran was found in a mustard field about 30 km away in the village of Rodhai village of Rewari district, Haryana. The police claimed to solve the case with confessions from the accused and findings of investigation, reinforced by DNA evidence. The trial court accepted the investigation and awarded capital punishment to the accused in 2014. The accused appealed in the High Court, which agreed with the trial court and confirmed the death penalty.
The accused then appealed to Supreme Court in 2015. The case was in limbo for better part of decade. On Monday, the Supreme Court pronounced its judgement in the case. In what came as a shock to parents and well wishers of the victim, the Supreme Court acquitted all the accused. The judgement is a testimony to our broken criminal justice system and needs to be studied in some detail.
The 40 page document first talks about the investigation conducted by the police. Four days after the kidnapping, accused Rahul was apprehended with a red Indica car. He confessed in police custody that he along with his brother Ravi and Vinod had kidnapped a girl from Qutub Vihar; had committed rape on her, had killed her and had thrown her dead body in the fields ahead of Jhajjar. Other accused were then arrested and also confessed the same to police.
The police then confiscated the car, mobile phones of accused and at the instance of the two accused, found the body of the girl in village Rodai of Rewari, Haryana. The police also recovered some hair strands from the body of the deceased, as well as two plastic glasses, one empty pouch of snacks, piece of earthenware pot, a broken piece of a red-coloured plastic bumper(of the car) and one wallet near the dead body.
At the instance of the accused, mobile phone and undergarment of the victim, along with her other burnt personal articles were also found. The police also found jack and spanner in the car, which were supposedly used for murdering the girl. Hair strands of the victim were also found in the car along with semen on the seats.
The post-mortem report indicated that the injuries could have been made by jack and spanner. The DNA test results indicated that the accused had raped the girl.
Holes in Investigation
However, procedural lapses by the police and prosecution ensured that the accused were acquitted in the case. The Supreme Court picked apart all the circumstantial evidence and found that the evidence is not conclusive. According to the court there is a reasonable doubt that accused are innocent.
The western legal tradition, also presently used in Bharat, runs by the famous maxim of 12th century philosopher Moses Maimonides – “’It is better to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death‘.” Thus, Supreme Court had to be absolutely certain that the accused are in fact guilty. It gives following reasons for acquitting the accused : –
- None of the witness could identify the accused in court. They had not seen the faces of accused. Curiously, Test Identification parade, as laid down in evidence act, was not done by any of the investigating officers before filing the chargesheet. In words of Supreme Court -”the very identity of the Appellants – accused – having not been duly established, the entire case of the prosecution falls flat on the very first circumstance having not been duly proved”.
- None of the witnesses had identified the red Indica car as they had not seen or noted down the registration number. This implies that the piece of bumper found near the body was planted there by police post-facto.
- The constables who arrested the accused were not examined by the procecution. The circumstances of arrest noted by the police were also disputed by the accused.
- There were conflicting versions on who among the police reached the site of the body first. The daily diary of the police station was not even made part of the evidence by the prosecution.
- According to evidence act, confessions by accused before police are not accepted as evidence, except in the part where it leads to recovery of any incriminating material. Thus these were also discarded.
- The wallet found was said to contain documents of accused Rahul. However, witnesses did not mention any such documents and the seizure memo (document containing details of things taken into custody) also does not mention any documents. This again implies evidence planting by the police.
- The hair found on the body were suspected to have been put later as in open field, loose hair would not be on the body for 3 days.
- The date of death according to post-mortem was between 10.02.2022 and 11.02.2022 while prosecution claimed it to be night of 09.02.2022 and 10.02.2022.
- As the chain of custody of car was not clear between seizure and sending to the laboratory, the hair and semen found there also became suspect as being a plant by police. Further, the DNA test itself is not a reliable evidence according to the court.
After enumerating these issues with the evidence in the case, the court acquitted the accused. In summary, no one killed Kiran Negi.
Issues with the judicial process
The judgement finds faults with the police investigation. However, even the judicial process is not free from defects. The trial court and the High Court did accept the findings of a bad investigation. The holes in the investigation pointed out by the Supreme Court judgement should have ideally been caught by the trial court.
Possibly under pressure to show results or possibly due to sheer incompetence, trial court and the High Court made a judgement that was bad in law. It resulted in false hopes of justice in the minds of people, and if the accused were innocent, wasted precious years of their lives.
Justice delayed is justice denied. The delay in justice delivery by the Supreme Court in such a gruesome murder, specially when cases filed later than this one got early judgement, raises fingers on the system put in place. Nirbhaya case, a similar gruesome rape and murder, happened a year after Kiran Negi and got judgement years ago.
In the meanwhile, courts were opened in the midnight to get bail for the terror accused. Judgements were given on the height of dahi handi in Mumbai and a continuous stream of moralising sermons were delivered from the pulpit by their Lordships in a misguided effort to “civilise” the masses. If there is a single apex Court for 1.4 billion people, they should try to ensure that its time is utilized in a better manner.
The judgement itself does not answer many questions. How did the accused know where the body of the victim would be found? If the police planted evidence to frame innocents, why should there be no punishment for those involved. Most importantly, if the prosecution made a mess of the case, should justice be denied to the victims?
This case shows the rotten condition of our criminal justice system in all its questionable glory. Our police services are inadequately staffed, trained and beset with corruption. In most cases, there is a standard operating procedure in place to investigate different types of cases. Yet, it is often ignored. Who is to say that some money does not exchange hands to make the case “weak”?
Afterall, experienced lawyers, police and judges do know the law by heart. Our courts act as neutral arbiters of the merits of lawyers, not the case. Thus, justice becomes a casualty to money and power. Our courts espouse first world legal principles in a country with a police apparatus of the colonial era. These are simply not compatible.
The anger at the judgement is palpable. In the judgement itself, the Supreme Court notes that “a kind of agony and frustration may be caused to the society in general and to the family of the victim in particular” by this judgement that let the criminals go unpunished. This also erodes the faith of the people on the rule of law and the institutions of the state, and this is why extra-judicial killings are celebrated and some people even prefer to take matters in their own hands.