SC allows J&K Govt to file status report today

NEW DELHI, May 16:
The Supreme Court today allowed the Jammu and Kashmir Government to file a status report tomorrow in the sensational Kathua gang rape and murder case of an eight-year-old girl after the State alleged that the three college friends of an accused might have misled the probe.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra was hearing a fresh plea of three college friends of Vishal Jangotra, a key accused in the case, that they were allegedly tortured and threatened by the Crime Branch of the Jammu and Kashmir Police during the probe and be provided protection by a Central agency.
Lawyer Ravi Sharma, representing students Sahil Sharma, Sachin Sharma and Neeraj Sharma, said that they hail from the Jammu region and they and their families were being threatened.
The bench, also comprising justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, did not agree with the contention of the students that their further questioning be video-graphed.
“We have never allowed video recording of any such process in the past,” it said, adding that the other plea of seeking presence of lawyers at the time of questioning may be considered.
Advocate Shoeb Alam, appearing for the Jammu and Kashmir Government, opposed the plea that the lawyers of the students, who were examined as witnesses, be permitted during their further questioning, claiming that this would “affect and defeat the entire examination”.
“The witnesses were required to be further examined as it appeared that in light of new material, the petitioners may have mislead the investigation,” Alam said and sought a day’s time for filing a fresh status report.
The Jammu-based students, who are pursuing B.Sc in Agriculture at a college in Muzzafarnagar in  Uttar Pradesh, are classmates of Jangotra.
The students alleged that they were “coerced to make statements contrary to the facts that Jangotra was with them at Muzzafarnagar from January 7 to February 10. During that period, he, along with the petitioners, attended examinations and practical papers”.
“The petitioners were subjected to the physical and mental torture from March 19 to March 31 by the respondents (State police officers),” the plea said.
The students said that they were constrained to move the Apex Court seeking security as they faced “imminent threat to their lives at the hand of the Crime Branch”.
Besides seeking security by a central agency, they alleged that despite recording their statements, they were being served with police notice to re-appear for re-recording of their statements.
The plea submitted the petitioners be permitted to be accompanied at all times by two lawyers as and when they are summoned by the State police, adding that the probe in the case be handed over to an “independent agency”.
It has sought a direction to restrain the Crime Branch officials from “harming” and “harassing” the students and their families.
The petitioner also sought Rs 50 lakh each as compensation to the three students for the “physical and mental agony and loss of study and future prospects”.
Earlier, the Apex Court had transferred the trial in the Kathua gangrape and murder case from Jammu and Kashmir to Pathankot in Punjab, but had refrained from handing over the probe to the Central Bureau of Investigation, saying there was no need as the investigation had been conducted and the charge sheet filed.
The top court, which ordered a day-to-day “in-camera” trial in the case, had said there was a need to shift the trial outside the State as “fear and fair trial” were contradictory and “cannot be allowed to co-exist.”
The victim, belonging to a minority nomadic community, had disappeared from near her home in a village close to Kathua in the Jammu region on January 10. Her body was found in the same area a week later.
The State police has filed the main charge sheet against seven persons and a separate charge sheet against a juvenile in a court in Kathua district. (PTI)