A Delhi court on Monday convicted key accused Brajesh Thakur and 18 others for sexually assaulting several girls in a shelter home run by him in Muzaffarpur, Bihar.
Additional Sessions Judge Saurabh Kulshreshtha convicted Thakur, who once unsuccessfully contested assembly polls on Bihar People's Party ticket, for several offences including the aggravated penetrative sexual assault under section 6 of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, and offences of rape and gang rape under the Indian Penal code (IPC).
In its bulky judgement running into 1,546 pages, the court also convicted Thakur for the offences under sections 120-B (criminal conspiracy), 324 (causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) and abetment under IPC, section 21 (failure to report commission of an offence) of the POCSO Act section 75 (cruelty to child) of Juvenile Justice Act.
The court fixed January 28 for hearing arguments on quantum of sentence. The offences entail a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.
It however acquitted one Vikki in the case for the want of evidence.
One of the female accused Rosy Rani, former assistant director of child protection unit in Muzaffarpur, was convicted for the offences under section 21(1) (failure to report commission of an offence) of the POCSO Act.
Since the maximum punishment for the offence was six months, which she had already undergone, she was granted bail by the court.
Dillip Kumar Verma, former chairman of Child Welfare Committee (CWC) of Muzaffarpur, child protection officer of District Child Protection Unit Ravi Roshan, member of CWC Vikas Kumar and other accused Vijay Kumar Tiwari, Guddu Patel, Kishan Kumar and Ramanuj Thakur were convicted for the offences of aggravated penetrative sexual assault under POCSO Act, criminal conspiracy, rape, gang rape, causing hurt, abetment to rape under IPC and POCSO Act, and section 75 of the JJ Act.
Two of the accused -- Rama Shankar Singh and Dr Ashwani-- were held guilty for the offences of criminal conspiracy and abetment to rape.
Rama was also convicted under sections 323 of IPC, 75 of JJ Act and 21 of POCSO Act.
Female accused -- Shaista Praveen, Indu Kumari, Minu Devi, Manju Devi, Chanda Devi, Neha Kumari, Hema Masih, Kiran Kumari -- were held guilty for criminal conspiracy, abetment to rape, cruelty to child and failure to report commission of an offence.
After the pronouncement of the judgement, one of the convicts Ravi broke down in the courtroom.
"I have not done any of the crimes told by you. I have not committed such shameful acts on the girls. You are sending me to jail. I will commit suicide," he told the judge.
The judge asked his counsel to console him.
Following this, some female convicts also started crying to which the judge sternly directed the investigating officer and the jail authorities to take them outside and console them.
Advocates P K Dubey and Nishaank Mattoo, appearing for Thakur, told reporters that they will challenge the verdict in the higher court.
Advocate Gyanendra Mishra, representing Dillip, too said there was no evidence against the accused and he will challenge the judgement in the higher court.
The court had recorded the statement of 69 witnesses lead by the Central Bureau of Investigation, represented by Public Prosecutor Amit Jindal.
It had recorded the statement of 44 girls who were physically and sexually assaulted at the shelter home, of which around 13 were mentally disabled.
It had examined 20 defence witnesses, said advocate Dheeraj Kumar, appearing for some of the accused.
The trial was held on a day-to-day basis and was completed within six months as per the Supreme Court's directions.
The court had on March 30, 2019, framed charges against the accused, including Thakur.
It had held trial for the offences of rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, drugging of minors, criminal intimidation among other charges.
Thakur and employees of his shelter home, as well as Bihar department of social welfare officials were charged with criminal conspiracy, neglect of duty and failure to report assault on the girls.
The charges also included offence of cruelty to child under their authority, punishable under the Juvenile Justice Act.
The court had reserved order on September 30, 2019 after final arguments by the CBI counsel and 20 accused in the case in which former Bihar Social Welfare Minister and the then Janata Dal-United leader Manju Verma also faced flak as allegations surfaced that Thakur had links with her husband.
She had resigned from her post on August 8, 2018.
The case was transferred on February 7, 2019 from a local court in Muzaffarpur in Bihar to a POCSO court at Saket district court complex in Delhi on the apex court's directions.
The matter had come to light on May 26, 2018 after Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) submitted a report to the Bihar government highlighting the alleged sexual abuse of minor girls in the shelter home for the first time.
The report had been submitted to the Bihar Social Welfare Department by TISS in February that year.