Directs High Court to hear the appeal afresh

The Supreme Court on Thursday set aside a the 2005 judgment of the Kerala High Court acquitting all except the prime accused S.S. Dharmarajan 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.

A Bench of Justice A.K. Patnaik and Justice Gyan Sudha Misra after hearing senior counsel Padmanabhan Nair, for Kerala, senior counsel V. Giri, counsel V.K. Biju, and senior counsel Altaf Ahmed and Anand Grover, appearing for various parties, set aside the impugned judgment dated January 20, 2005, and directed the High Court to hear the appeal afresh and dispose it of in six months.

The Bench directed all the accused to file fresh bail applications before the High Court in four weeks and asked the High Court to pass appropriate orders uninfluenced by the orders passed by the Supreme Court.

Prosecution case

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.

SLPs

The special leave petitions (SLPs) were filed in the Supreme Court by the Kerala government and the victim girl 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.

Second appeal

Earlier, senior counsel Mr. Nair, appearing for Kerala, assailed the High Court judgment and said the High Court was wrong in acquitting the accused relying on the evidence in the second appeal pertaining to the one accused, Dharmarajan.

In its order, the Bench said there was force in the argument of the counsel that the evidence in the first appeal was not considered by the High Court independently. Further, the Bench said the conclusion arrived at by the High Court might be true for one accused but might not be true for all the other accused.

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

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