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December 10, 1999


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Mattoo murder: it's just the beginning

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Onkar Singh in New Delhi

The Priyadarshani Mattoo murder case, one might say, has just begun. With Additional Sessions Judge J P Thareja slapping blistering indictments on the Central Bureau of Investigation for its shoddy treatment of the case, and The Indian Express adding insult to injury by tracking down a key witness that the CBI had been unable to locate, the case is likely to keep the media busy for days to come.

Legal experts say the CBI now has no option but to take the case to a higher court. And a spokesman for the agency confirmed late on Friday night that it would indeed move the Delhi high court. The spokesman told that the agency had taken this decision after "due consultations with experts" and would be moving its review petition soon. But it may first try to plug the loopholes that had led Judge Thareja to acquit the prime accused, Santosh Singh, while expressing anguish at the way the country's premier investigating agency had botched the case.

Priyadarshini Mattoo, a Delhi University student, was found murdered at her Vasant Kunj flat in south Delhi on January 23, 1996. Eleven months before she was killed, Mattoo had filed a harassment complaint against Santosh with the Vasant Kunj police. However, Santosh was arrested and let off after he wrote a letter of apology. He then continued to stalk Mattoo and misbehaved with her once again on November 6, 1995 despite the fact that a police guard, Rajender Singh, was accompanying Mattoo.

When Mattoo was murdered Rajender Singh was not on duty, though he was the first to see the body. While CBI produced him as a witness in the case, they failed to locate Mattoo's servant Virender Prasad who had run an errand for her the day she was killed. The CBI submitted before the court that an officer was sent to Prasad's village in Bihar but he was not there.

Prasad, however, told The Indian Express that he was in his village when the CBI officers came calling, but the team told his folks that they had come just to verify the address.

Judge Thareja while delivering the judgement accused the CBI of conducting the investigations with the sole aim of helping the accused Santosh Singh, who happens to be the son of Inspector General of Police J P Singh, currently posted in Mizoram.

Judge Thareja also said that he was releasing the accused for want of evidence though he himself was convinced that the he (the accused) did murder Priyadarshani Mattoo.

Legal fraternity in Delhi, however, is divided over the way the judge handled the case. While some feel that the judge could have summoned the servant, others say he could have returned the file to the CBI and asked them to reinvestigate the matter.

However, by making some really stinging remarks against the CBI, Judge Thareja has more or less ensured that the case goes to the Delhi High Court. After all, it's now a matter CBI's reputation. "I am sure the CBI would challenge the verdict in the high court," said noted criminal lawyer R K Anand.

Former CBI director Joginder Singh agrees with Anand. He, however, said the CBI was likely to re-investigate the case before moving the high court because it can not afford another adverse verdict. "They will have to tie-up the lose ends and ensure that the case is water tight when they go in for appeal in the high court. I am sure R K Raghavan (CBI director) knows what to do," he said.

Priyaranjan Das Munshi, Congress member of Parliament, who raised the matter in the Rajya Sabha yesterday, is of the opinion that Raghavan should have resigned following the judge's adverse remarks against his agency.

"The CBI told the court that it could not locate Priyadarshani Mattoo's servant, but The Indian Express found him in no time. This nails their lies,'' he said.

Munshi added that he would write to the Prime Minister asking him to intervene in the matter. ''We all know that the Delhi police officers from time to time are posted with the CBI for short tenures. But that does not mean that they dance to tune of their former bosses,'' he added.

Santosh Singh's defence counsel, R K Nassim, has already begun preparing to face the CBI in the high court. ''I am sure someone would appeal in the Delhi High Court...we are ready to face the challenge," he said.

Judge Thareja had also come down heavily on the Centre of Cellular and Molecular Biology which conducted DNA tests in the case. The judge accused the scientists for providing wrong reports.

The director of the institute Dr Lalji Singh has denied the charges. "The tests were done according to established protocols which have received judicial approval in various cases in India and abroad,'' he said and added that if the same tests were conducted elsewhere in the world the results would still be the same.

And even as the heat generated by the case has raised the temperature in Delhi, CBI is not losing its cool. When contacted, this is what a senior-ranking officer had to say about the case: ''CBI Director R K Raghavan has deputed two senior officers go into the various aspects of the judgement and make their recommendations. Once that is done, we would seek legal opinion. Only after that a formal decision about going in for an appeal against the lower court's judgement would be taken.

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