Nithari fiasco: On the case being a scathing indictment of investigators

Acquittal shows shock and sensation cannot make up for lack of sound evidence

October 20, 2023 12:10 am | Updated 10:06 am IST

The Allahabad High Court verdict acquitting the two men accused of killing girls and young women at Nithari village in Noida near Delhi is a scathing indictment of how investigators can leverage popular revulsion against the alleged perpetrators to build a case without credible evidence. Any acquittal in grave crimes may be seen as a miscarriage of justice, but it is usually because of the perception that the culprits got away due to the failure of the prosecution to prove its case. However, in the Nithari case, the judgment indicates that two men were brought to trial with nothing more than purported confessions. It is incredible that a high-profile case, in which the police believed they had solved the mystery of the disappearance of several girls and women in 2006 after body parts and bones were unearthed from behind the house where Moninder Singh Pandher and his domestic help Surinder Koli resided, could have been so shoddily investigated. It is equally unbelievable that the CBI, which took over the probe, went to trial with nothing more than a confessional statement before a magistrate and purported recoveries based on statements that neither recorded the details of the disclosures allegedly made nor the time it was done. The Bench has ruled that the confession made by Koli before the magistrate, based on which Pandher was also convicted, was invalid because it was preceded by 60 days in police custody and a mere five-minute interaction with a legal aid lawyer.

Koli and Pandher were sentenced to death by the trial court, but the High Court has now acquitted Koli in 12 cases, and Pandher in two. The prosecution case itself was strange: that Koli was often pushed to an ‘automaton state’ on seeing the alleged promiscuous acts of his master with many women and that he lured girls who passed by into the home, killed them, had sex with the bodies and ate body parts after cooking them. The claim that all remains were thrown from a high window to an enclosed space behind his house also did not explain why and how the remains went deep into the earth and had to be dug out. Also, the judgment raises the pertinent query why a doctor next door who had been arrested in the past for involvement in illegal organ trade was never interrogated. That the remains unearthed consisted mostly of skulls, bones and flesh, but not even one torso, also indicated the possibility of the removal of organs. The case is a study on how criminal cases cannot be decided mainly on their shock value and the sensation around widely televised and gory images.

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