Charges were framed against self-style godman Asaram on Friday for rape, criminal conspiracy and other offences by a Jodhpur court in connection with sexual exploitation of a minor girl in his ashram in Jodhpur.
District and Sessions Court Judge Manoj Kumar Vyas retained all the charges slapped by the police except Section 26 of Juvenile Justice Act related to child labour against 72-year-old Asaram and his aides and co-accused Sanchita Gupta alias Shilpi and Sharad Chandra.
Charges have been framed against under sections 342 (for wrongful confinement), 354A (sexual harassment), 370(4) (trafficking), 376(2)f (rape on a woman when she is under twelve years of age), 506 (criminal intimidation), 509/34 and 120 (B) (Criminal conspiracy).
He has also been charged under section 23 and 26 of Juvenile Justice Act and section 5(f)/6, 5(g)/6 and 7/8 of POCSO Act.
The charges attract a maximum of life imprisonment. "The court has relieved Asaram, Shilpi and Sharad of section 26 of JJ Act only, which is a balilable offence and has ordered to retain all the remaining charges against Asaram and all other co-accused," said Public Prosecutor R L Meena adding that the court will now read out the charges on February 13.
Two other accused Shiva and Prakash have been framed under the same sections except section 109/120(B) instead of plain 120(B) and section 7/8 read with section 17 of POCSO Act instead of plain section 7/8 of POCSO Act. They have not been charged under J J Act.
The defence said they were mulling filing a petition against the order. "Since, the charges on Asaram are redundant, we are exploring the possibilities of filing a revision petition," said Pradeep Choudhary, counsel for Asaram.
The court had taken coginsance of the charge sheet in the case on November 27 last year.
The arguments on the charges began early this year and veteran advocate and Bharatiya Janata Party state vice president Onkar Singh Lakhawat had appeared in the court from Asaram’s side.
Meanwhile, an order on bail application of Asaram is still pending in the high court. The arguments on the bail application had been completed on January 3 after which the court had reserved the order.
His earlier bail application has been rejected by the high court. Asaram has been lodged in jail since his arrest in August last year on charges of sexually assaulting he teenage girl at his ashram.
Later, two Surat-based sisters who stayed at his ashram in Gujarat accused him and his son, Narayan Sai, of rape.