The Supreme Court while giving the benefit of doubt to three murder accused in the 2012 Chhawla Gang Rape & Murder case has observed there were many glaring lapses having occurred during the course of trial.

The Court observed, "The Court is constrained to make these observations as the Court has noticed many glaring lapses having occurred during the course of the trial. It has been noticed from the record that out of the 49 witnesses examined by the prosecution, 10 material witnesses were not cross-examined and many other important witnesses were not adequately cross-examined by the defence counsel."

The Court acquitted three men (accused) who were sentenced to death by the Delhi High Court based on a lack of fair trial giving them the benefit of doubt. The Court however ordered that the family members of the victim are entitled to compensation.

The Bench comprising CJI Uday Umesh Lalit, Justice S. Ravindra Bhat, and Justice Bela M. Trivedi stated –

"In the instant case, material witnesses examined by the prosecution having not been either cross-examined or adequately examined, and the trial court also having acted as a passive umpire, we find that the Appellants-accused were deprived of their rights to have a fair trial, apart from the fact that the truth also could not be elicited by the trial court. We leave it to the wisdom and discretion of the trial courts to exercise their powers under Section 165 of the Indian Evidence Act for eliciting the truth in the cases before them, howsoever heinous or otherwise they may be."

The Bench further held –

"Having said that and for the reasons stated above, the judgments and orders of conviction and sentence passed by the trial court and the High Court are set aside. The Appellants-accused are acquitted from the charges levelled against them by giving them a benefit of doubt, and they are directed to be set free forthwith if not required in any other case. The appeals deserve to be allowed accordingly. It is needless to say that in view of Section 357(A) Cr.PC, the family members of the deceased- victim would be entitled to the compensation even though the accused have been acquitted."

Advocate Sonia Mathur appeared for the appellants while Additional Solicitor General of India Aishwarya Bhati represented the respondents.

Brief Facts of the case –

Chhawla Police Station on February 9, 2012 received information from the police control room that a girl was kidnapped in the red-coloured Tata Indica Car near Hanuman Chowk, Qutub Vihar, Chhawla, and the car proceeded towards Shyam Vihar. SI Prakash Chand along with constable reached at the spot where they met a girl named Saraswati who recorded her statement mentioning that when she was returning from her job at DLF Gurgaon along with her friends, a red coloured Indica car came from behind and a boy pulled the victim forcibly inside the car and three to four boys were sitting in that car.

An FIR was thereafter registered under Section 363 of IPC. The investigation of the case got transferred to the special staff south-west New Delhi. During the course of interrogation, Rahul i.e., the accused confessed that he along with his brother Ravi and Vinod kidnapped a girl from Qutub Vihar, raped her, killed her, and threw her dead body in the fields ahead of Jhajjar. Hence, three of the accused were arrested as the other two also admitted to having kidnapped, gang raped, and killed the victim.

The dead body of the victim was then found lying in the mustard fields after a search done by the inspector and the same was sent to the Civil Hospital, Rewari for post-mortem examination. All the articles lifted from and near the dead body were sent to CFSL for examination and DNA reports were also obtained. Thereafter, after the completion of the investigation, a charge sheet was laid before the Court, and charges under Sections 365/34 IPC, 367/34, 376(2)(g), 377/34, 302, and 201/34 IPC were framed against the accused. The Trial Court convicted and sentenced the accused being confirmed by the High Court vide the order. Therefore, the accused moved the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court noted that "Having heard the learned counsel for the parties, in the light of the evidence on record, it cannot be denied that the entire case of prosecution rested on the circumstantial evidence, and that the victim was raped and brutally murdered."

The Court in the above context further noted –

"From the said evidence of the concerned witnesses, it clearly transpires that neither any T.I. Parade was conducted by the investigating officer during the course of investigation for the identification of the accused, nor any of the witnesses had identified the accused during their respective depositions before the Court. Therefore, the very identity of the Appellants -accused having not been duly established, the entire case of the prosecution falls flat on the very first circumstance having not been duly proved by any evidence much less clinching evidence, against the Appellants-accused."

The Court also observed that "… the accused Rahul was apprehended because he was driving one red Indica Car. Pertinently, none of the witnesses examined by the prosecution had identified the Indica Car which was allegedly being driven by Rahul on 13.02.2012. P.W-29, the complainant Saraswati had admitted in her cross-examination that she could not say with certainty that it was the same car in which the victim was kidnapped. None of the witnesses had seen even the registration number of the car in which the victim was kidnapped."

The Apex Court further stated –

"The story of blood stains and semens found on the seat covers of the Indica Car seized on 13.02.2012 and sent to the CFSL for examination also appears to be highly improbable and unreliable. There is no clear evidence as to who was in custody of the said car after its seizure till it was sent to CFSL for examination and as to whether the car was sealed during the said period."

The Court while questioning the trial of Court concluded –

"The prosecution has to bring home the charges levelled against them beyond reasonable doubt, which the prosecution has failed to do in the instant case, resultantly, the Court is left with no alternative but to acquit the accused, though involved in a very heinous crime. It may be true that if the accused involved in the heinous crime go unpunished or are acquitted, a kind of agony and frustration may be caused to the society in general and to the family of the victim in particular, however the law does not permit the Courts to punish the accused on the basis of moral conviction or on suspicion alone. No conviction should be based merely on the apprehension of indictment or condemnation over the decision rendered. Every case has to be decided by the Courts strictly on merits and in accordance with law without being influenced by any kind of outside moral pressures or otherwise."

Accordingly, the Court allowed the appeals and disposed of the pending applications.

Cause Title – Rahul v. The State of Delhi Ministry of Home Affairs & Anr.

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