New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday expressed anguish over the tardy pace of progress in a rape case involving self-styled religious figure Asaram Bapu and asked the Gujarat government to file a progress report on it.
The apex court, which has earlier rejected several bail pleas by Asaram and was hearing one more moved by him, also questioned the state government on why the victim in the case has not yet been examined.
"Why is there a delay despite the earlier direction for expeditious trial? Why has the victim not been examined so far," a bench of Justices N. V. Ramana and Amitava Roy said. It told the Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Gujarat government, that directions for expediting recording of evidence were given in April.
"Why has the victim's statement not been recorded in the case so far. She is the most crucial witness in the case," the bench observed.
Mehta told the bench that two crucial witnesses have been killed, one is missing and 17 others injured in alleged attacks. The woman will be examined by the court after ensuring her safety, he said, adding that out of 92 material witnesses, over 45 of them have been examined so far. Advocate Saurabh Ajay Gupta appearing for self-styled guru said that they have to prove the defence of his client (Asaram) and it is only after the victim is examined, he can press for bail.
Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, representing the victim, sought speedy trial of the case and said that the Court should issue a direction to examine the prosecutrix before September 23, which is the next date of hearing of the case before trial court.
The bench then asked the state government to file an affidavit detailing the stage of trial and how it wished to move forward in the case. It then posted the matter for further hearing after Diwali.
On April 12, the apex court had asked the Gujarat trial court to expedite the recording of evidence of prosecution witnesses in a physical assault case lodged by two Surat-based sisters against Asaram. It had asked the Surat trial court to record the testimonies of the 46 remaining prosecution witnesses, including the alleged rape victims.
Earlier, the top court had refused to grant bail to Asaram on various grounds including his poor health in two separate assault cases lodged in Rajasthan and Gujarat.
The apex court, while dismissing his bail plea on January 30, had observed that Asaram had placed a "fictitious document" to persuade the court to grant him bail and ordered registration of an FIR against those responsible for preparing and filing the alleged fake papers.
The Gujarat Government had then told the top court that the rape case registered against Asaram would very likely proceed in an expeditious manner and trial would be completed within six months.
The two Surat-based sisters had lodged separate complaints against Asaram and his son Narayan Sai, accusing them of rape and illegal confinement among other charges. The elder sister, in her complaint against Asaram, had accused him of repeated physical assaults between 2001 and 2006 when she was staying at his ashram near Ahmedabad.
In the case in Rajasthan, a teenage girl had accused him of rape at his ashram in Manai village near Jodhpur. The girl, who belonged to Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh, was a student living in the ashram.
The apex court had noted that trial in the matter was unnecessarily prolonged and the prosecution witnesses were being attacked, which had led to the death of two witnesses. The apex court had on November 18 last year sought the response of the Centre and five states on a plea seeking a CBI probe into the alleged murder of children and attacks on several witnesses in the Asaram rape cases.
Asaram was arrested by Jodhpur Police on August 31, 2013 and has been in jail since then.