This is an unprecedented step for a state government. Generally, states do not mark their presence without the apex court issuing notice, and are often reluctant to accept a CBI probe through the court’s intervention on a matter within their jurisdiction.
Lucknow’s request came unilaterally, without even the court calling for it or issuing it notice on a PIL, seeking a court-monitored probe into the incident, which was taken up for hearing. Terming the incident “shocking” and “horrible”, the SC asked the UP government to file an affidavit in a week detailing steps taken to protect the family of the girl, who had alleged gang rape.
Filing an affidavit saying it was committed to a “free and fair” investigation uninfluenced by extraneous considerations, the state said the UP police had diligently investigated the crime as and when the charges were made and modified by the victim before her death. It requested the Centre for a CBI probe as it found vested interests and political parties trying to tarnish the image of the state and chief minister Yogi Adityanath by peddling “false and motivated” narratives through social and other media.
The UP government also explained the victim’s hurried cremation at night – which caused widespread outrage – saying Dalit organisation Bhim Army and other outfits had planned violence over the issue by preventing the last rites. It said police kept the girl’s body with relatives till about 2.30 am and then in their presence, and according to religious practices, carried out the cremation.
When the PIL seeking a court-monitored probe into the incident was taken up by the bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, a large number of activist-lawyers led by Indira Jaising demanded an SC-constituted Special Investigation Team (SIT) and a probe that would be monitored by the court and also sought transfer of the trial to Delhi.
The UP government, through solicitor general Tushar Mehta, registered no opposition to this request and said the state was determined to find the truth and punish the culprits. Jaising said witnesses in the case should be given protection. Mehta said they were already getting police protection.
The bench asked the UP government to file an affidavit within a week detailing the steps taken to protect the kin of the girl, who had alleged gang rape a week after the registration of FIR for physical assault. She was admitted to J N Medical College, AMU on September 14 and levelled the rape allegations on September 22 before succumbing later in a Delhi hospital.
The bench asked the counsel to inform next week about the scope and ambit of proceedings pending before the Allahabad high court regarding the Hathras incident. “Please tell us how we can widen the scope of the investigation and make it relevant,” the CJI said, adding, “We will ensure that the investigation into the incident is smooth.”
In its 16-page affidavit, the UP government said the investigation was not allowed to continue properly as vested interests continuously floated false and malicious propaganda through social media, TV and print media giving narratives to derail the probe.
“The Supreme Court may keep the PIL pending while directing time-bound investigations by CBI under the supervision of the apex court,” the UP government urged the bench.