The apex court has said the trial against 13 Greyhounds personnel must be concluded within six months.
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on September 1 ordered the fast-tracking of a case relating to the alleged gangrape of tribal women by 13 personnel of Andhra Pradesh’s elite anti-Naxal force – the Greyhounds.
The apex court hence struck down an appeal by the accused who had challenged the Andhra Pradesh high court’s order directing a trial over the alleged gangrape of 11 tribal women in Vakapalli – a tribal hamlet in Visakhapatnam district – on August 10, 2007.
Of the 11 victims, two have died, one as a result of malaria and another because of a snake bite.
The bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Mohan M. Shantanagoudar while dismissing the special leave petition filed by the accused A. Ravi Kumar and 12 others expressed shock and dismay over the case being dragged for ten years.
On August 31, 2012, another bench of the apex court of the then Justices H.L. Dattu and Chandramauli Kr. Prasad had granted an interim stay on proceedings pending against the accused before the trial court at Paderu in Visakhapatnam district.
On Friday, when the counsel for the accused sought their discharge on the grounds that there was no medical evidence pointing to the gangrape, and that there were discrepancies and variations in the witness’ accounts, the bench observed that it was not enough to discharge the case.
Citing lack of medical evidence pointing to gangrape and discrepancies in the statements of witnesses, the police had filed a closure report on the incident. In its order, the bench directed that the trial against the 13 policemen should be expedited on a day-to-day basis, so as to conclude within six months.
On April 26, 2012, Justice B. Seshasayana Reddy of the Andhra Pradesh high court, in a reasoned order, had held that the high court’s inherent power should not be exercised to stifle a legitimate prosecution of the accused.
Although the trial court had initiated proceedings against 21 accused policemen, Justice Reddy had removed eight from facing trial for he had found that they formed the contour party, which was to be around the village to meet any eventuality, and it was only the 13 others who had entered the village to corner Chandru, a wanted militant of the People’s War Group. The police alleged that they let Chandru off fearing threats to their safety from the women of the village.
According to some reports, when the police arrived in the village early morning on the fateful day, the men had left for work. The women were then allegedly raped at gunpoint for nearly two hours.
The victims filed protest petition-cum-complaint under Section 200 of Code of Criminal Procedure before the judicial magistrate of first class in Paderu. The magistrate took cognizance of the offences punishable under Sections 376(2)(g) read with 149 of the Indian Penal Code, and the relevant provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, by his order dated August 27, 2008.
In his order, the magistrate stated that just because there was no medical evidence available, it could not be said that no such incident of rape had taken place. The magistrate found prima facie evidence which established the commission of gangrape by the policemen on duty. The victims, being illiterate, may not have resisted the accused out of fear and thus did not sustain any external injuries, the magistrate had held in his order.
The magistrate reasoned that since the mother tongue of victims was Kondu, it was not unnatural to find minor contradictions in their statements. He also suggested that lack of medical evidence of sexual intercourse was not at all fatal to the complainants’ case, and there might have been an attempt to commit rape.
The victims’ counsel, Vrinda Grover, while welcoming the Supreme Court’s direction to ensure expeditious trial in the case, said this was another instance of how systemic delay favours the accused, and strengthens their impunity. “Other courts must be cognizant of what the Supreme Court has observed on Friday,” she said.