A delayed prosecution

Print edition : December 23, 2001

A Director-General of Police in Haryana is charge-sheeted in a case of molestation of a schoolgirl a full decade after the allegation was made against him.

FINALLY, S.P.S. Rathore, Director-General of Police, Haryana, was charge-sheeted by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in a case of molestation a full decade after the alleged incident took place. The delay occurred despite a full-fledged inquiry by the then DGP, R.R. Singh, which indicted Rathore. The incident in question took place in August 1990 and, the victim, a minor, committed suicide three years later.

The molestation case has had to negotiate many an impediment, which could not have been placed on its path without the tacit knowledge or support of people in the government. There was inordinate delay on the part of the prosecution, the reason f or which could be seen in the government's inaction, as stated by a Special CBI Court in Ambala. Surprisingly, the First Information Report was filed only on December 29, 1999, nine years after the incident in question. Even this was done in response to two court orders, one from the Punjab and Haryana High Court and the other from the Supreme Court. The Om Prakash Chautala government, which prevaricated for long, stripped Rathore of his post under pressure from the State units of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Congress(I), and sections of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The ruling Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) is a constituent of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), but relations between the INLD and the BJP have been less than cordial at the State level. The pressure from the BJP to secure Rathore's removal, therefore, did not go unnoticed. Union Minister of Consumer Affairs Shanta Kumar wrote an open letter to Chautala stating that had he been in Chautala's place, Rathore wo uld have been out of the job.

S.P.S. Rathore.-N. SRINIVASAN

Chautala cleared the prosecution proceedings on December 5, the day the Special CBI Court condoned the delay in filing the charge-sheet and pulled up the government for its inaction. Although the CBI had charge-sheeted Rathore on November 16, he continue d to hold the post.

The issue of alleged molestation of the 15 year old girl, of Panchkula in Chandigarh and her subsequent suicide was taken to court by the parents of her friend Reemu, who was a witness to the alleged incident. Reemu's parents, Anand Prakash and Madhu Prakash, app roached the court only after several attempts to get an FIR registered were frustrated and the government remained indifferent. The Anands filed a writ petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Chandigarh in 1997, seeking directions for the regist ration of a criminal case under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) read with Section 509 against Rathore who was then the Additional Director-General of Police, Haryana. The High Court, after studying the R.R. Singh inquiry report and also other material, concluded that a criminal case had to be instituted and directed the CBI to conduct an investigation. (The CBI was asked to investigate the case as Rathore was the DGP of Haryana. Rathore had also suggested that the investigation be made by an independent authority such as the CBI.) The Supreme Court on December 14, 1999, upheld the High Court order and directed the investigating agency to complete the investigation as expeditiously as possible, preferably within six months.

The delay in dealing with the case led to issues such as the expiry of the period of limitation. However, the CBI contended in the Special CBI court that there had been no delay in the investigation by it from the date of registration of the FIR and that courts could take cognisance of the offence even after the expiry of the period of limitation. Counsel for Rathore argued that the case had been filed with the intention of harassing and defaming the accused. Pleading that there was no case for condonat ion of the delay, counsel claimed that the CBI investigation was biased and unfair and information was being leaked to the press selectively to prejudice the minds of the public and the judiciary.

ACCORDING to the charge-sheet filed by the CBI on November 16 this year, the girl had alleged in a memorandum to the Financial Commissioner and the State Home Secretary, that Rathore had molested her on August 12, 1990 at about 12 noon. Investiga tions by the CBI disclosed that during 1989-91, Rathore was on deputation to the Bhakra Beas Management Board as Director (Vigilance and Security). During 1988-89, he had formed the Haryana Lawn Tennis Association (HLTA) and become its president. The HLT A had enrolled more than 60 members, young boys and girls, mostly residents of Panchkula, for training in the game. The girl, then 15 years old, and her friend Reemu, were among them. Rathore used to visit the tennis courts in the evening.

The girl was to go to Canada for a few months and had informed Rathore of it. On August 11, 1990, around noon, Rathore visited their house to persuade her father not to interrupt the girl's training by sending her abroad as she was a promising p layer. He said that he would arrange special coaching for her. Rathore then asked the father to send her to his office the next day at 12 noon to discuss the arrangements for that. The victim spoke to Reemu about these developments.

According to the CBI case, on the day of the incident, while the two young women were at the net, they were told by a ballboy that Rathore had sent word for the girl. Both went to meet Rathore, who was stated to have insisted that they accompany him to th e office. Rathore then apparently told Reemu to go and call the coach, T. Thomas. Reemu went to the rear of the building to call the coach, leaving the girl with Rathore, but Thomas waved from a distance indicating that he would not come. Reemu returned t o the office.

The CBI case goes thus: On entering the room Reemu found Rathore holding the girl's hand with one hand, his other hand encircling her waist, and she was struggling to free herself. On seeing Reemu, Rathore apparently got nervous and fell on his chair. Re emu was ordered to go again and get the coach. The victim wanted to leave the room but Rathore asked her to stay back. He once again ordered Reemu to get the coach. The girl then reached Reemu's side and ran out of the office. At this point Rathore told Reem u: "Ask her to cool down. I will do whatever she says."

Reemu's parents, Anand Prakash and Madhu.-N. SRINIVASAN

The young women did not inform anybody of the incident as they feared that Rathore, who was an Inspector-General of Police then, would harass their parents. On August 14, the two went to the tennis courts early so as to avoid Rathore. Around 6-30 p.m., when they were to return from practice. Rathore summoned the girl again. The two did not go. Instead they decided to talk to their parents about this as the girl felt that Rathore had become emboldened after the August 12 incident.

Thus began a 10-year-old saga of indifference and inaction by government agencies. A memorandum was prepared, addressed to the then Chief Minister, Hukam Singh, Governor Dhanik Raj Mandal, the Home Minister, the Sub Divisional Magistrate, and the Station House Officer, Panchkula. Home Secretary J.K. Duggal was given a copy of the memorandum and, after discussions with the Home Minister on August 17, he asked the then DGP, R.R. Singh, to inquire into the matter.

Meanwhile, the victim was suspended from the tennis courts for alleged indiscipline with effect from August 13, that is, the day after the alleged molestation. Both the coach and the manager of the court wrote on the suspension order that they were not aware of any act of indiscipline by the girl, thus contradicting the claims made in the order, allegedly issued under directions from Rathore. Investigations by the CBI also revealed that no act of indiscipline by the girl had been officially recorded or inquir ed into.

Interestingly, the DGP's inquiry report of September 3, 1990 concluded that whatever had been stated about the molestation was based on facts and that there was a case of cognisable offence made out. The DGP forwarded the report to the Home Secretary on September 3. Matters did not move after that, and the girl, CBI investigations revealed, remained confined to her house and was depressed. It was alleged that Rathore harassed her family to such an extent that her father had to sell their house at Panchku la. Her brother had several cases of car theft slapped on him. On December 12, 1993, perhaps worried over the events, the harassed victim consumed an insecticide. She died the following day.

The CBI investigations concluded that Rathore had indeed molested the girl. The offence is punishable under Section 354 (outraging the modesty of a woman) of the IPC, and the punishment is imprisonment up to two years. Hence the limitation for filing such cases extends to two years. The CBI had to move an application for condoning the delay as the case had been filed a good 10 years later. However, Section 473 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.PC) empowers the court to take cognisance after the expir y of the period of limitation if the court is satisfied that the delay has been properly explained or it is necessary to do so in the interest of justice.

Reemu, friend of the victim and witness to the alleged incident.-N. SRINIVASAN

The Prakash family, which was involved in bringing the incident to public gaze right from the beginning, became even more resolute after the girl's death. R.R. Singh's report was put in cold storage. No case was registered by the government. Madhu Prakas h, the original petitioner, got a copy of the report only in 1997. She approached the Punjab and Haryana High Court seeking a ruling that a case be registered. The Court observed that a case should have been registered immediately after the receipt of th e (R.R. Singh) report. "Why the State government had allowed eight years to elapse has not been explained properly...," noted the order.

The Court also dismissed the defence plea that Madhu Prakash, the petitioner, was no blood relation of the deceased and hence her locus standi was questionable. It held: "Repeatedly, it has been held by the Supreme Court and endorsed by various Hi gh Courts that offences against women are not only offences against an individual, it is an offence against society. In these circumstances, if the petitioner has advocated the case of the prosecutrix, I am of the opinion that she has the locus standi even to file the present petition." It directed the government to register a criminal case under Section 354 of the IPC read with Section 509. The Judge observed: "I have given these directions against an officer of the rank of Additional DGP though he may be under suspension. Law is uniform to everybody." Rathore not only continued in his post but was promoted as DGP subsequently. He petitioned the Supreme Court against the High Court order. The apex court upheld the High Court order and ordered t hat the CBI investigation be concluded in six months.

ANAND PRAKASH and Madhu Prakash told Frontline that it had been an unequal fight. Instead of an FIR, a charge-sheet was filed by the government, even though it was not the competent authority to do so. On August 12, 1992, the file was still at the Chief Secretary's level. The Anands said that until December 1993, six cases had been registered against the younger brother of the victim, and he had been beaten up by the police. Reemu told Frontline that the victiom continuously blame d herself for the misery wrought on her family.

The victim's family, it appears, was torn asunder after the incident. Both father and son were untraceable until recently. It was presumed that they had left the State fearing persecution. Anand Prakash alleged that the six FIRs filed against the victim's brother were instigated by Rathore through the then Superintendent of Police, Panchkula. They were all registered between September 6, 1992 and August 30, 1993. The trial court found no prima facie case against the brother and his co-accused. The S.P. was subsequent ly promoted and is now a Deputy Inspector-General of Police (CID).

Rathore maintained that he was not with the State police during the period concerned. Prakash responded that it was rare for any Superintendent of Police to refuse an order from an I.G. Rathore told Frontline that some officials in the government had hatched a conspiracy to frame him and used the girl for this. He said: "I proceeded on leave on my own. Because of the media trial and the charge-sheet, I voluntarily stepped down," he said. Accusing his colleagues of "spreading falsehoods", he denied any role in the cases filed against the victim's brother. He said that he had "nowhere made him a party to the defamation complaint", in which he has involved several persons. He alleged that a section of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) lobby was out to "fix" him. Duggal was one of those who were out to "fix" Rathore, because Duggal headed a rival tennis body, it was imputed.

Rathore's version of what happened on August 12, 1990 was totally at variance with that of the victim and Reemu. According to Rathore, the young women were called to his office to be questioned about playing on a wet court and not to discuss the victim's tenni s coaching. While Reemu tendered an apology, the victim drew some caricatures, which infuriated Rathore, according to him. Reemu was then told to bring the coach. "How could in that short interregnum of 15 to 20 seconds I have achieved what I am supposed to have done?" asked Rathore. Members of his family felt that an honest officer was being persecuted.

M.S. Malik, who replaced Rathore as the DGP, was somewhat non-committal on the matter. Without commenting on the merits of the case, which he said was sub judice, Malik told Frontline that the entire Haryana Police Department could not be b lamed on the basis of one incident. He admitted that the response period for cases had to be narrowed drastically. Without referring to the alleged involvement of his predecessor, whom he described as a "good officer", in the molestation case, Malik aver red that "after all, policemen were also part of the same society and have the same kind of habits that ordinary people have". He spoke about the expanding police presence in the State and then detailed the steps taken to "correct" the "indifferent" atti tude of the people towards the police.

The case will now come up for hearing on January 11, when Rathore will appear in court for the first time as an accused.

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