Appellants deserve the benefit of the doubt, says Patna High Court

The Patna High Court on Friday acquitted the former Lok Sabha MP, Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav, and two others in the 1998 murder case of Communist Party of India (Marxist) MLA Ajit Sarkar.

A division bench of Justices V.N. Sinha and Amaresh Kumar Lal overturned the February 2008 order of the lower court, which had convicted Mr. Yadav, Rajan Tiwari and Anil Kumar Yadav of murder and criminal conspiracy and sentenced them to rigorous life imprisonment.

The High Court, in its 273 pages-long judgment, ruled that “the three appellants deserve to be granted [the] benefit of [the] doubt. The impugned judgment and the order of sentence dated 14.02.2008 is set aside. Appellant Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav is directed to be released forthwith, if not required in any other case. Appellants Anil Kumar Yadav and Rajan Tiwari are discharged from their bail bonds.”

On June 14, 1998 Mr. Sarkar, then the sitting MLA from Purnea district, was travelling in his car when he was gunned down by armed assailants on a motorcycle. Mr. Sarkar’s driver was also killed. There are three eyewitnesses in the case — Kalyan Chandra Sarkar, the MLA’s brother, CPI (M) member Madhusudan Rishi, and Lal Bahadur Oraon.

Pappu Yadav was an independent MP at the time the murder took place. His counsel Ajit Kumar Ojha submitted that evidence provided by prosecution witnesses was “not free from reasonable doubt, retracted confession by Rajan Tiwari is found to be tainted and not supported by independent corroboration.” He argued that Mr. Yadav was “entitled for acquittal by granting him [the] benefit of [the] doubt.”

“The FIR filed by the Purnea police mentioned a set of six accused. But when the CBI took over the case, they mentioned different accused persons based of the statements of the same eyewitnesses. That’s when Mr. Yadav’s name was added to the FIR. Secondly, the confession statement of Mr. Tiwari was retracted later,” Mr. Ohja told The Hindu.

The court observed that it was “not safe to rely on the confession statement of Rajan Tiwari, when the same has been retracted.” It also raised doubts about the way the investigation agency fixed the identity of the accused, seeing how the police and the CBI named two different sets of accused. “By trying these appellants alone after letting off the other set of accused named in the FIR the dice has been loaded exclusively against these appellants, which has occasioned in failure of justice,” the judgment states.

The CBI’s standing counsel in Patna, however, felt that there was no question of giving them the benefit of the doubt. “There is a confessional statement. There is oral as well as documentary evidence,” Bipin Kumar Sinha told The Hindu.

Wife hails verdict

Hailing the verdict, Mr. Yadav’s wife Ranjeet Ranjan, talking over phone from New Delhi, told The Hindu that the acquittal was a result of people’s love and blessings.

CPI (M) State secretary Vijay Kant Thakur, however, said there was no basis for such a verdict. “Time and again the Supreme Court has cancelled his bail on examination of the case. So there is nothing to support this judgment,” he told The Hindu. The party has written to the CBI asking it to challenge the High Court’s decision in the apex court. It has planned a rally in Purnea on June 14 to drum up people’s support on the issue.

Mr. Yadav, who is currently lodged in Beur jail, has spent about 12 years in jail. He was arrested in 1999, but was granted bail several times. His bail was also cancelled by the Supreme Court. He has represented Purnea and Madhepura constituencies in the Lok Sabha four times, twice as an independent, once on a Samajwadi Party ticket and once on a Rashtriya Janata Dal ticket. After Mr. Sarkar’s election as legislator a turf war of sorts is believed to have created animosity between the two.