‘Extraordinary and shocking’: SC seeks UP response on witness protection in Hathras case

Appearing for the UP government, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said different narratives were being given to the incident and the apex court must supervise the investigation.

Calling the alleged rape and murder of a Dalit woman in Hathras “extraordinary and shocking”, the Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Uttar Pradesh government to file an affidavit on how witnesses were being protected in the case. The matter has been adjourned for next week.

Hearing a petition seeking probe by the CBI or a Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by a sitting or retired SC or High Court judge, Chief Justice of India SA Bobde said, “The incident is very extraordinary and shocking. We want it on affidavit on how Hathras case witnesses are protected. We want you (SG) to ascertain whether the victim’s family has chosen a lawyer.’

Appearing for the UP government, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said different narratives were being given to the incident and the apex court must supervise the investigation.

“There are narratives and narratives but the sad truth is that a young girl has lost her life. There should be an investigation and that should be monitored by this court,” Mehta said.

Senior Counsel Indira Jaising sought protection for witnesses and transfer of the trial from UP. “We want that no lawyer should solicit in this case,” she said. To this, SG Mehta said witnesses were already protected. “You don’t need a statute for witness protection. They will have to be protected,” Mehta said.

The petition by Satyama Dubey, a social activist, and advocates Vishal Thakre and Rudra Pratap Yadav wanted the trial to be shifted to Delhi and alleged that the UP government and the state authorities had “failed to take…actions against accused persons…”.

The Dalit woman who was assaulted allegedly by four upper caste men on September 14 passed away last week, triggering widespread national outrage and protests by the Opposition. Reports of her hurried cremation without involving the victim’s family allegedly under police pressure has also led the Opposition to question the law and order situation in UP.

Earlier in the day, in its affidavit, the Uttar Pradesh government sought an investigation into the Hathras case by the CBI under the supervision of the apex court, saying it would ensure that no “vested interest is able to create a fake and false narrative with oblique motives”.

Besides the alleged gangrape and assault case, the government also sought a CBI probe into the FIR related to the alleged criminal conspiracy to spread caste conflict, instigate violence and incidents of vicious propaganda by sections of media and political interests.

“Despite diligent probe by state, different false narratives started gaining momentum at the behest of some vested interests,” the affidavit said.

The UP government also highlighted the role of social media, certain sections of print and electronic media along with some sections of the political parties in making a deliberate and planned attempt to incite caste/communal riots in the state using the incident.

“Some sections of the social, electronic print media and some sections of the political parties are seeking to deliberately interfere in the process and not permitting the truth to be unveiled and guilty to be punished,” the affidavit said.

The government further said “extraordinary circumstances and sequence of unlawful incidents” forced the District Administration to take the extraordinary step of cremating the victim at night “in presence of the family members who agreed to attend to avoid further violence”.

Amid a row over UP ADG (Law and Order) Prashant Kumar’s remarks that the 19-year-old was not raped, the affidavit mentioned that there was a video recording where the mother and daughter “clearly stated that she was not injured anywhere else other than the neck, that accused was only Sandeep and nothing else had happened”.

The woman had provided the details of the alleged sexual assault after she regained consciousness at the AMU hospital on September 22, eight days after the assault. After her statement was recorded before a magistrate, police had added relevant sections of rape to the FIR.

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