J. Venkatesan

Gowrishankara Swamiji had been sentenced to 10 years RI

The swamiji had also been fined Rs. 25 lakh by HC

“High Court misdirected itself at various stages”

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday set aside a judgment of the Karnataka High Court awarding 10 years rigorous imprisonment to Gowrishankara Swamiji of Sri Siddaganga Math in Tumkur on a charge of subjecting a 13-year-old boy to unnatural offence and directing the swamiji to pay a fine of Rs. 25 lakh.

Allowing an appeal from the swamiji against the High Court judgment, a Bench of Justice S.B. Sinha and Justice H.S. Bedi directed that he be set at liberty forthwith.

In the case, the first information report was filed on August 29, 1986, though the incident was alleged to have taken place in July 1986. The trial court recorded a judgment of acquittal.

On an appeal from the State, the High Court reversed the judgment of acquittal and held him guilty of the offence under Section 377 IPC (unnatural offence).

It sentenced the swamiji to 10 years imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs. 25 lakh.

Allowing the swamiji’s appeal, the Bench said: “A bare perusal of the FIR itself shows that it cannot be in the handwriting of a student of Class IX. It was in very good handwriting and written systematically. There was no mistake. There was no hesitation in writing. It was absolutely neat and clean. The contents of the FIR clearly demonstrate that the same was drafted by a person who is well-versed in legal language.”

Writing the judgment, Justice Sinha said, “Why in a case of this nature the filing of charge sheet was unduly delayed and could be filed only in May 1988, i.e., only after the dispute between senior swamiji and the appellant crystallised, is beyond anybody’s comprehension.”

The Bench said: “A large number of irrelevant factors, including the rate of conviction and legalisation of sodomy in other countries had been taken into consideration by the High Court. Appellant, for no reason, was condemned in the clearest possible terms.”

Indicting the High Court, the Bench said: “Taking of such irrelevant factors clearly demonstrates how the mind of the learned Judges of the High Court stood influenced not only for the purpose of reversing a judgment of acquittal but also for imposition of sentence. If the High Court was clear in its mind that it was dealing with a criminal case, and that too the offence is a serious one, we fail to understand why it had made endeavours to mediate in the internal disputes of the math and for that purpose held sittings in chamber. The High Court unfortunately failed to bear in mind the legal principles. The High Court misdirected itself at various stages. It was wholly unfair to the appellant,” the Bench said, and set aside the impugned judgment.