Supreme Court gives extension till January 31

The Supreme Court on Monday granted time till January 31 for the Kerala High Court to dispose of the appeals in the Suryanelli sex-scandal case.

The case relates to the abduction and sexual assault of a minor by several men in a span of 40 days in 1996.

On January 31 this year, a Bench of Justices A.K. Patnaik and Gyan Sudha Misra had set aside a 2005 judgment of the Kerala High Court acquitting all except the prime accused S.S. Dharmarajan in the Suryanelli sex-scandal case. It had directed the High Court to hear the appeal afresh and dispose it of in six months. Accordingly fresh appeals were filed, and were being heard by the High Court, which is to complete the hearing by December 31 this year.

On Monday, on behalf of the accused, Joseph, alias Baby, and others, it was submitted before a Bench of Justices Patnaik and Kurian Joseph that it might not be possible for the High Court to dispose of all the appeals before December 31 this year. They pleaded for further extension of time. The Bench accepted the plea and asked the High Court to dispose of the appeals by January 31.

The prosecution case was that the 16-year-old schoolgirl from Suryanelli in Idukki district was enticed, abducted, and sexually exploited by a bus conductor on January 16, 1996. She was later handed over to two others, including the prime accused, who was a lawyer. The duo presented her to several men. Her abductors released the girl on February 26, 1996.

On September 6, 2000, a special court sentenced the 35 accused to rigorous imprisonment for varying terms. The first accused, conductor Raju, and the second accused, Usha, were sentenced to 13 years’ rigorous imprisonment with fine, and an additional jail term of four years on different counts.

The key accused, Dharmarajan, had been absconding, but was arrested later. The trial court had convicted all the 35 accused on charges of rape, gang rape, and kidnapping, but the High Court in January 2005 acquitted all except one.

The special leave petitions (SLPs) were filed in the Supreme Court by the Kerala government and the victim seeking to quash the impugned judgment, contending that the High Court had erred in acquitting all the accused except Dharmarajan on two minor charges. The SLPs pleaded for restoring the punishment imposed by the trial court.

The apex court set aside the High Court judgment and ordered fresh hearing of the appeals to be disposed of in six months and the High Court consider the bail applications on their own merit.

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