Nithari verdict

Published : Mar 13, 2009 00:00 IST

Moninder Singh Pandher and Surinder Koli at a special court in Ghaziabad on February 13.-PTI

Moninder Singh Pandher and Surinder Koli at a special court in Ghaziabad on February 13.-PTI

TWO years ago, reports of the horrific murders of 19 young children and women, belonging to poor families, within the confines of a private residence at Nithari village, Noida, Uttar Pradesh, shocked the collective conscience of the nation. People were outraged that the police did not act on the complaints of missing children and women, lodged by the families of the victims, for nearly two years. It led to the destruction of crucial evidence by the accused. A special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Ghaziabad on February 13 sentenced 55-year-old businessman and owner of the residence Moninder Singh Pandher and his 38-year-old domestic help Surinder Koli to death in the case relating to criminal conspiracy, abduction, rape and murder of 14-year-old Rimpa Haldar.

The CBI expressed satisfaction over the judgment pronounced against Koli. Fifteen other cases in which charge sheets have been filed before the court await trial. On the request of the Uttar Pradesh government, 19 Nithari cases were handed over to the CBI for investigation in January 2007.

The CBI finalised charge sheets in 16 cases after investigations, which included scientific tests such as DNA fingerprinting, skull superimposition and other legally admissible evidence. In eight cases, the identity of the victims could be fixed through DNA tests. In five cases, the identity could be established through the skull superimposition test.

CBIs investigations revealed that Pandher was away when the murders took place. The CBI claimed that this was borne out from the documents, statements of witnesses, and mobile phone records. Rimpa Haldars was the first incident, which took place on February 8, 2005. The CBI claimed that Pandher was out of the country, in Australia, when the murders took place at his home. Pandher has been charge-sheeted in the case relating to another girl, Payal, for the offence of immoral trafficking, bribery and giving gifts to police officers.

The CBI established that Koli was involved in all the murders and was a psychopath killer suffering from necrophilia (committing sexual acts on a corpse) and necrophagia (act of cannibalising a corpse). The Special Judge, Rama Jain, convicted both the accused entirely on circumstantial evidence. Kolis confession before a judicial officer was used as the key piece of evidence against both.

Pandher lived in the house D-5 at Sector 31, Noida from 2004 until the serial killings were discovered in December 2006. Several murders took place during this period. Human bones and skulls in polythene bags were recovered from the front and back of the house. Bones and skulls were recovered in such a mass scale from near a house which wasnt less than a slaughterhouse. The odour would have spread within a kilometres radius, the court observed and added that it was highly unlikely that Pandher was unaware of such mass crimes happening inside his house. A saw used in the crime had been recovered at the instance of Pandher.

The judge said the manner in which the horrendous act was committed put even that era to shame when humanity was not civilised and added that there was no indication that the convicts would reform their character.

The courts award of capital punishment to Pandher despite the CBI not asking for it has surprised many. However, it is pointed out that the burden of proving commission of offence by the accused, Pandher, so as to fasten the liability of guilt on him remained on the prosecution, and this could not have been lessened by the mere fact that Pandher had adopted the defence of alibi.

According to the principles laid down by the higher judiciary, the plea of alibi taken by the accused needs to be considered only when the burden which lies on the prosecution has been discharged satisfactorily. If the prosecution has failed in discharging its burden of proving the commission of crime by the accused beyond any reasonable doubt, it may not be necessary to go into the question whether the accused has succeeded in proving the defence of alibi. Therefore, the Special Judges dismissal of Pandhers defence of alibi however clinching it might be carries conviction.

V. Venkatesan
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