Law

Supreme Court Rejects Asaram’s Interim Bail; Allahabad HC Moves Missing Witness Case to CBI

Making scathing comments about the state police’s slow investigation into the disappearance of Rahul Sachan, the Allahabad high court ordered the case to be transferred to the CBI.

Credit: PTI/Files

Credit: PTI/Files

New Delhi: Self-styled Godman Asaram Bapu, who is currently in Jodhpur jail facing charges of sexually molesting a minor girl,  today suffered two setbacks – one from the Supreme Court and another from the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court.

The Supreme Court bench, comprising justices A.K. Sikri and N.V. Ramana, rejected his counsel, Raju Ramachandran’s plea for interim bail for at least a week. Ramachandran argued that if on interim bail he could stay in his ashram in Delhi, since his presence in New Delhi is required for a medical examination at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).

Another bench of the Court had rejected a similar plea for interim bail only on August 11, while telling the director of AIIMS to constitute a medical board to examine him in Jodhpur jail and submit a report on his condition. The AIIMS medical team, however, expressed its inability to travel to Jodhpur and suggested that he be brought to New Delhi.  AIIMS also returned Asaram’s cheque for Rs 1 lakh, meant to defray the medical team’s travel and other expenses.

Today, when Ramachandran told the court that his visit to Delhi is sure to be turned into a public event by the media, as had happened earlier last year, when he faced hostile crowds at the New Delhi railway station where he arrived from Jodhpur, the bench suggested that he could be brought to Delhi by air and, from the airport, be whisked away to the AIIMS.

The bench granted Asaram’s prayer that he be examined by the jail doctor in Jodhpur on the day of his travel to Delhi, about his fitness to undertake the journey. However, the judges rejected Ramachandran’s second prayer that the media be restrained from reporting on the proceedings. The bench directed the seven-member medical board constituted by the AIIMS to fix a date for his medical examination within the next ten days.

The Lucknow bench

The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court, comprising justices Amreshwar Pratap Sahi and Vijay Laxmi, today positively ruled Bennet Castelino’s plea. Castelino, an overseas Indian citizen and a practicing lawyer, had asked for a direction to the Central Bureau of Investiation (CBI) to investigate the case of the missing witness in the Asaram case, Dr. Rahul Sachan. Sachan went missing on November 25 last year, despite having been given protection by the Uttar Pradesh police. The bench had on August 20 expressed its disappointment with the pace of investigation by the UP police into Sachan’s disappearance.

Today, in a detailed order, the bench recorded that censure entries were awarded to Constable Vijay Bahadur and Constable Amit Kumar Singh, who were on duty as gunners for the protection of Sachan.  The senior superintendent of police, Lucknow, had on August 18 admitted that there was a dereliction of duty and negligence on the part of these two gunners. The bench also took note of the fact that the UP police has constituted a special investigation team on August 21 to trace Sachan.

The bench observed that the UP police took these remedial steps only after the present petition remained pending before the court, after the court had passed interim orders expressing its disappointment with the negligence in protection to Sachan and the pace of investigation into his disappearance.

The bench expressed its satisfaction that Castelino has no private motive, personal gain or oblique reason for filing this public interest litigation seeking a probe by the CBI into Sachan’s disappearance.

The bench made scathing observations about the quality of investigation by the state police into the incident, as follows:

The surprising part is that there is hardly any investigation or interrogation of the two Gunners, the Shadow/Gunner in-charge of the Police Lines or those connected with the security of the missing person in order to have a clue as to why they did not possess any information about his whereabouts after having left Lucknow on November 25, 2015.  The case diary does not indicate any interrogation further worth the name from Constable Amit Kumar Singh who was in his security as a Gunner with Dr.Rahul K Sachan on the date when he went missing….The sum and substance of the case diary that has been placed before the Court is that a paper formality appears to have been concluded in a crime of this nature….There is nothing on record to indicate that any serious effort was made at all in this regard.

The bench apprehended that Sachan may have been quite possibly been a victim or he could have gone underground voluntarily. To proceed to investigate at Hardoi, where Sachan disappeared, after six months, remains unexplained, the bench said.

It is this surprising part which impels this Court to prima facie believe that the police has failed to carry out the investigation fairly and diligently. No effort worth the name has been made towards the possibility of involvement of the police itself that could have revealed something further.  The investigation, therefore, far from being credible, does not inspire confidence.

The bench directed the CBI to take over the investigation from the state police, and complete it within six months from today and, if possible, earlier.