Sabharwal case needs to be re-opened
Posted January 10, 2010on:
The Ruchika case has, once again, highlighted how deficient the justice delivery system in our country is and how the politician-police nexus can exploit this system to its advantage, sometimes with the connivance of the judiciary and at other times in spite of it. The Ruchika case, though, does not belong to the rare category. This is a common enough happening throughout the country. It is only the extended interest of the media followed by the public outcry that has made the authorities sit up and seek a fresh investigation and trial of the Ruchika case.
Another such recent case, deserving a fresh investigation and trial, pertains to the murder of Prof. H.S.Sabharwal of Ujjain. The accused, all belonging to the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), were acquitted by Nagpur Additional Sessions Judge Nitin Dalvi because “the prosecution has failed to put up evidence to prove its case”. The Judge had the authority to order re-investigation of the case but he did not. The Supreme Court knew that the police witnesses had turned hostile and the trial was going the “Best Bakery” way but the apex court also, unfortunately, did nothing.
To recapitulate, Prof. Sabharwal of Madhav College (Ujjain) was asked to conduct the College Union elections in August 2006. Finding irregularities, he decided to cancel the elections for which he was attacked by a group of students, said to be belonging to the ABVP. The police personnel on duty did not act. Prof. M.L.Nath, a colleague of Prof. Sabharwal, was manhandled by a group led by ABVP State President Shashi Ranjan Singh Akela and Organising Secretary Vimal Tomar when he tried to intervene.
As Prof. Sabharwal was taken to the hospital by his colleagues and declared dead there, chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan went public with the statement that Prof. Sabharwal had died in an accident and that the ABVP had nothing to do with his death. However, the visuals of the ABVP activists’ role in the crime repeatedly shown on the TV channels and the countrywide outrage over the murder of the Professor forced Chauhan to ask the police to ‘investigate’. (Ironically, Prof. Sabharwal was a founder member of the Vidyarthi Parishad which was later renamed Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad).
Initially, the police had arrested 22 persons, mostly belonging to the Congress, in connection with the rowdyism on the Madhav College campus. However, under public pressure (the attack on Prof. Sabharwal had made the national headlines), 12 students owing allegiance to ABVP were named accused in the murder. Ultimately, the challan under Sections 302 and 147 IPC was put up against six of them. They were: Shashi Ranjan Akela (State President of ABVP); Vimal Tomar (Divisional Organising Secretary, ABVP); Vishal Rajoria (member of State Executive, ABVP); Hemant Dube (District Convener, ABVP); Sudhir Yadav and Pankaj Mishra (activists of ABVP).
While the police “investigation” in the murder was going on, the chief minister had a 20-minute one-to-one talk with Vimal Tomar, one of the six accused. Tomar, then in custody in Ujjain, was admitted to the State-run M.Y.Hospital at Indore purportedly for treatment. Chauhan met him there. Tomar was “cured” immediately after meeting the chief minister and he was sent back to the custody at Ujjain.
Apparently taking a cue from the chief minister, crucial help to the police in subverting the investigation was provided by the State’s forensic experts. Prof. Sabharwal’s viscera and heart, with a covering letter from the Ujjain District Police, were put in a sealed container and addressed, appropriately, to Indore for pathological tests but the samples landed, inexplicably, in Bhopal. The doctors at the Mahatma Gandhi Medico-Legal Institute in Bhopal opened the samples, repacked them and redirected these to Indore. The pathology department of the Indore Medical College found that “the article was not properly sealed in a container and also the labels and papers accompanying it were incomplete”. What the Medico-Legal Institute in Bhopal (headed by Dr D.K.Satpathy, since retired) had done to the organs before haphazardly repacking them and redirecting them to Indore would probably never be known.
As the witnesses (even the policemen who were eye-witnesses) started turning hostile, the murdered Professor’s son Himanshu knocked on the doors of the Supreme Court. A division bench comprising Arijit Payasat and D.K.Jain stayed the proceedings in the Ujjain court and asked the BJP government of the State, through its counsel: “What action have you taken against those police officers who resiled from their earlier statements? Would not the trial be a mockery if your police officers turned hostile? Our anxiety is that every police officer will be given a clean chit. We have seen what has happened in the Best Bakery case.”