Panchkula: Court sentences 17-year-old convict to 20 years of rigorous imprisonment

A 17-YEAR-OLD accused in the rape and murder of a five-year-old girl was convicted by the fast track court on Friday and sentenced to 20 years of rigorous imprisonment.

The minor convict, tried as an adult was sentenced under three different offenses including Section 6 of the POCSO Act (aggravated penetrative assault) with a rigorous imprisonment for 20 years, Section 376 A (rape) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) with rigorous imprisonment of 20 years, and Section 302 (murder) of the IPC with life imprisonment but not for the remainder of his natural life. All sentences are to run concurrently.

In the order dated January 24, Additional Sessions judge Narendra Sura called the committed offenses “gruesome” with “highest viciousness and human lust taking a demonic form.” The order also said, “In our society minor girls are worshiped as a goddess but…(the convict) has committed the abhorrent and atrocious nature of crime in a diabolical manner on the defenseless and unprotected girl of five years without any remorse.”

Declaring the sentence, the court observed, “In such cases, sympathy in any form would be misplaced and it would shake the confidence of public in administration of criminal justice system…whenever such grave violations of human dignity come to fore, an unknown sense of insecurity and helplessness grabs the entire society, particularly women.”

Commenting on the nature of the crime, the order said, “The measure of punishment should be proportionate to the gravity of offense and… that sentencing in any offense has a social goal… convict must realize the crime committed by him has not only created a dent in life of victim but also disturbed the social fabric… He committed the offenses in a brutal manner, which has shocked the collective conscience of the community.”

Even though during the hearing of the sentence, the public prosecutor had submitted that the offenses committed by convict are heinous and the case falls under the ‘rarest of the rare’ category, demanding a death penalty to the convict, the provision contained in Section 21 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 says that no child in conflict with law will be sentenced to death or for life imprisonment without the possibility of release.

Due to the age of the convict being less than 18 years, he will be kept in an observation home till he attains the age of 18 and will then be lifted to a ‘place of safety’, a special home, where he will be kept till the age of 21. After that, the convict will be shifted to the Central Jail of Ambala to carry out the rest of his sentence.

The rape and murder of the five-year-old in Panchkula last year had shocked the city. On May 13, the victim’s body, smeared with blood, was found on vacant land adjacent to a private school. The incident came to light around 2 pm after the girls’ parents started searching for her and saw her body lying in the vacant plot. On the parents’ intimation, the police reached the site. According to the FIR, the victim and the convict were neighbors. The convict had taken the victim from her house at around 10 am on the pretext of a ‘Kanya Poojan’ when the parents of the victim were not at home. It was after the victim’s mother did not find her, she called her husband who then started searching for her.

Fast Track court expedited the case with daily hearings

The case that began on May 13, ended within nine months on January 24. To expedite the case, a fast track court was set up on December 6, which heard the case on a day-to-day basis after which it declared the child in conflict with law a convict on January 18.

Even while pointing out many faults in the investigation conducted by the police, the court order has appreciated the efforts made by DCP Panchkula, Kamaldeep Goyal in the case “as he had reached the spot immediately and supervised conducting of proceedings on the spot.” The court also appreciated both the defence as well as public counsel for they concluded the evidence “without seeking unnecessary adjournments… which enabled the court to present judgement and decide the case expeditiously.”

The defence counsel, Ketan Khurana, during the course of the trial had argued that the blood sample of the child that was collected on May 14 had remained in the custody of the Investigating Officer for three days where in the samples were only deposited with the MHC on May 17.

He also argued that the investigating officer had failed to get the preserved CCTV footage of cameras installed at the banks, schools and colleges near the place of occurrence of the crime.

The argument presented by the defence was rejected by the court terming them “minor discrepancies which are not fatal to the case of prosecution in any manner.”

As per the order of the court, it was the DNA evidence which proved to be a clear link between the victim and convict. “It is established beyond reasonable doubt that the semen of the ‘child in conflict with law’ was found in vaginal smear of victim girl as well as on her clothes. This is a very clinching piece of evidence regarding ravishment of minor girl”, read the order.

In September, when the hearing of the case had begun, the defence had raised the question of the age of the accused and the case had been sent to the Juvenile Justice Board which had then passed an order on September 26, saying, “In view of interaction and personal observation, this board is of view that the juvenile has enough mental and physical capacity to commit the offense… therefore this board feels that there is a need for trial of the juvenile as an adult.”

The case was then transferred to Children’s court.