The Supreme Court bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice AM Khanwilkar on Friday issued notice in the SLP preferred by former IGP Zahur Haidar Zaidi against the January 19 order of the Himachal Pradesh High Court dismissing his bail plea in respect of the custodial death of an accused in the 2017 case of gangrape and murder of a minor schoolgirl in Shimla.On Friday, senior counsel Salman Khurshid submitted before the bench that several months have passed since the present petitioner’s arrest by the CBI and that the high court has taken a very strict view in the impugned order.
The present petitioner, who is at present in custody, had approached the high court praying for grant of bail in the FIR under sections 120B, 302, 330, 331, 348, 323, 326, 218, 195, 196 and 201 of the Indian Penal Code registered in New Delhi by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
In dismissing the bail plea, the high court observed, “Custodial death is a heinous crime, and pthe erson involved in crime how highly placed he may be, needs to be dealt with severely. As such, present being a case of custodial death, same needs to be viewed more seriously than a murder case. Hon'ble Apex Court in a catena of judgments especially has termed ‘custodial deaths to be worst kind of crime in a civil society governed by rule of law’.”
On July 4, 2017, a minor girl (given the name of 'Gudiya') after having attended her school left for her home about 4.30 pm. On the way to her home, she was allegedly raped and murdered by some unknown persons. Her body was found lying in Halaila forests near Mahasu at 7.40 am on July 6.
Since there was huge public outcry against the aforesaid brutal act committed by unknown persons and the accused could not be arrested even after four days of the alleged incident, Director-General of Police, Himachal Pradesh, constituted a Special Investigation Team headed by the present petitioner, who was the then Inspector-General of Police.
As per case of the prosecution, the present petitioner and other officials entered into criminal conspiracy to falsely implicate deceased Suraj Singh, who subsequently died in custody, and others, in the FIR relating to rape and murder of minor girl. In pursuance to aforesaid criminal conspiracy, the SIT arrested Suraj Singh and four others. A team of police officers tortured Suraj in order to extract confession of the crime and in this process, caused bodily injuries intentionally on the person of Suraj continuously which were sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause his death.
On July 13, 2017, the present petitioner participated in a press conference held by Director-General of Police in Shimla. In the press conference, the Director-General of Police claimed that the police had solved the case and arrested five accused in connection with the case relating to rape and murder of the minor girl. Since public at large was not satisfied and convinced with the story put forth by the police in the press conference, the Director-General of Police, Himachal Pradesh, sent a communication to the Secretary (Home) to the Government of Himachal Pradesh to get the matter investigated from CBI.
From July 13, 2017 till the intervening night of July 18 and 19, 2017, the members of the SIT, in pursuance to criminal conspiracy, tortured accused Suraj in custody to extract the confession of crime and in this process caused bodily injuries to him. During the intervening night of July 18 and 19, 2017, accused Suraj died in custody due to torture by the police officials.
The death was sought to be given the colour of a fight between accused Suraj and other accused Rajinder alias Raju. As per the prosecution, the present petitioner, the then Superintendent of Police and other officials conspired to lodge a FIR under Section 302 of the IPC on account of the death, knowing fully well that Suraj Singh had died due to custodial torture.