police says the trial court erred in arriving at the conclusion
that Manu had not absconded. They now assert that it was only
after successive raids at Manu’s Sonepat farmhouse and repeated
contact with his father that he surrendered
It is always the
hardest for the family. Sabrina Lall, Jessica Lall’s sister, has
found endless support from unexpected quarters, but at the end of the
day when she is by herself; sometimes hopeful, sometimes desolate, she
can’t help thinking that not only did Manu Sharma kill her sister,
he also wrecked her family. Her mother died six months ago and her father,
Ajit Lall, is currently in an intensive care unit. Three strokes since
that fateful night in 1999, when his daughter was killed because she
refused a drink, have left him beaten.
But if it is the hardest for the family, they are also the ones who
can never give up. Sabrina continues to hope. And this time, she has
thousands of outraged Indians on her side, demanding justice for Jessica.
Manu Sharma, the brash gun-wielding son of Haryana politician Venod
Sharma, walked free from court but that brazen walk and attitude of
‘money and muscle power can go a long way’ shook middle-class
India, and took on a momentum that forced more than just a comment from
upa chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The
plea for justice from the corridors of power that reflected the anger
on the street has now translated into some action.
Adept at reading the
minds of their political masters, the Delhi Police finally challenged
Additional Sessions Judge SL Bhayana’s controversial acquittal of
all eight accused on 92 points in the Delhi High Court on March 13. After
dragging its feet for nearly three weeks since the February 21 acquittal,
the ‘with you, for you, always’ Delhi Police then lost little
time in preparing a 228-page appeal once the message from the top was
clear. And now, the same outraged public which has been on protest marches
and penning signatures to frenzied web campaigns are asking another question:
will Jessica get justice this time?
Impact: Protests had a bearing on the Delhi Police move
Photo Lakshman Anand
Guilty of botching
up evidence in what most agree was an open-and-shut case, since at least
100 people witnessed the murder at Delhi’s Tamarind Court restaurant
on April 29, 1999, the police is now pointing fingers at the trial court.
The police’s appeal is now very strongly worded and at one point
says that “utter non-application of judicial mind is writ large
and evident”, in the trial court judgement.
trial court gave Manu the
benefit of doubt on his version that the Tata Safari was recovered
from Karnal. The police says the ‘court grossly erred’
because the seizure memo records a Noida recovery
What the police
is not acknowledging is that before it applied its own mind to an appeal
it was forced to take to the Delhi court, it had spent a lot of time
washing dirty linen in public and in passing the buck. What it chooses
to remain silent on is its own sordid role which resulted in a shoddy
investigation. That as long back as May 2000, the then DCP (South) Sudhir
Yadav had come to suspect that things were going wrong and that evidence
was being tampered with. He had written to his senior, then JCP, Amod
Kanth, who asked Commissioner Ajai Raj Sharma to look into the matter.
That the then JCP (Crime) KK Paul, who is now commissioner, had probed
the matter and recommended the registration of a separate case under
Section 201 of the Indian Penal Code (Causing disappearance of evidence,
or giving false information to screen the offender). That Paul, whose
force has now gone in for an appeal, had in an internal report six years
ago said, “there obviously has been a collusion between the accused
and certain officials, which is to be investigated.” That the
same Delhi Police had then chosen to overlook the report.
Sabrina is now generous
in her plea that she would not mind the Delhi Police reinvestigating
the case, provided it was willing to come clean now. But those hardened
by the manner in which the investigating agencies and the courts have
colluded to side with the accused are totally against the very idea
of the Delhi Police having a second go at delivering justice to Jessica
this time around. “The high court should also order an inquiry
into why the Delhi Police botched up to begin with,’’ asserts
Prashant Bhushan, an eminent Supreme Court public interest lawyer (see
Case: Commissioner KK Paul
Bhushan makes a
valid point. For, as he acknowledges, courts, too, are known to side
with the influential. The Delhi Police is now criticising Bhayana’s
judgement on 92 counts, but the police can hardly absolve itself of
the charge that it provided enough ammunition to Bhayana to declare
that “the prosecution miserably failed to prove its case beyond
reasonable doubt against any of the accused persons”. The police
has filed an appeal in the high court but Paul still has to reply to
a suo motu notice from the court, in which the commissioner will have
to not only specify the force’s own lapses but also affix responsibility.
Paul has to submit the inquiry report by April 19.
Shaken by orders from the top and by the spontaneous outpouring from
irate masses, the police has — perhaps unwittingly — raised
crucial questions. By questioning the “non-application of judicial
mind”, it has pointed the reinvestigation and the retrial in an
important direction. In the very direction that the outraged masses
wanted it to begin at. In its appeal, the Delhi Police is now faulting
the sessions court judgement for overlooking crucial circumstantial
evidence. The police now want to know why the court did not press the
Manu Sharma’s failure to produce the weapon. Bhayana did not question
why Manu failed to produce the .22 Italian-made Beretta pistol registered
in his name, especially since the forensic report established that Jessica
was killed by a .22 bore gun.
is now generous in her plea that she would not mind the Delhi
Police reinvestigating the case. But those hardened by the manner
in which the investigating agencies and the courts have colluded
to side with the accused are against the very idea of the Delhi
Police having a second go
The judge declared that the prosecution failed to establish the connection
of the accused with the crime. The police now says that the ‘frantic
and frequent’ phone calls made by the accused to each other form
a crucial evidence.
The judge ignored the important fact that Manu Sharma went into hiding
after the incident. The police says that the trial court erred in arriving
at the conclusion that Manu had not absconded. Police now assert that
it was only after successive raids at Manu’s farmhouse in Sonepat
and repeated contact with his father that Manu surrendered. That he surrendered
only after he had been named as the prime accused.
The judge, the Delhi Police’s appeal now says, should not have ignored
the vital fact that not only did Manu Sharma flee the scene of the crime,
he also abandoned his black Tata Safari (ch-01-w-6535). The vehicle was
registered in the name of Piccadily Agro Industries, which is owned by
his father Venod Sharma. The trial court gave Manu the benefit of doubt
and believed his version that the Tata Safari was recovered from Karnal.
The police says the “court grossly erred’’ because Sub-Inspector
BD Dubey had signed a seizure memo which mentions that the vehicle was
recovered from Noida. A case had also been registered in Noida after .22
bore bullets were recovered from the same vehicle.
But just as the
police is now coming out in the open with facts that the prosecution should
have emphasised and reiterated during the trial, it will also have to
look inwards if Jessica is to get justice this time.
Why, for example, did the police not point out that Shayan Munshi, the
main eyewitness, was not that inept at Hindi as he made himself out
to be? Munshi’s retraction is being seen as one of the main reasons
that weakened the trial, but the fact remains that the same Munshi who
said he could not read or write Hindi had no problems mouthing Hindi
dialogues in Bollywood movie Jhankaar Beats.
Sabrina is willing to write off the last seven years in the hope that
her sister did not die in vain. The police is making the right noises
at the moment. A day after it took its appeal to the high court, UK
Katna, special commissioner (intelligence and operations), has issued
a ‘look-out’ notice for all the eyewitnesses. It is nobody’s
hope that Munshi or Shivdas will have a change of conscience.
Many do hope — and groups are promising to keep the campaign for
justice alive — that both the police and the courts will ensure
what every outraged voice is demanding: justice for Jessica, and thereby
a change in the criminal justice system.