Weeks after the Kerala High Court granted bail to a Kochi man who allegedly raped and murdered a schoolgirl, the court on Monday ordered that he be arrested again. The move comes after the High Court learnt that the man had secured bail by misleading the court and the prosecution, too, failed to point out the facts of the case.
The man, Safar Shah, a 32-year-old native of Panangad in Ernakulam district, has been accused of rape and murder of a 17-year-old girl in Kochi. In the incident, which had jolted the state in January this year, Safar Shah, who had been stalking the girl, had abducted her while she was on the way home from school. Later that night, the girl’s body was found in a tea plantation at Valparai in Tamil Nadu. Safar was arrested by a joint team of Tamil Nadu and Kerala police.
The man was arrested under Indian Penal Code sections 364 (Kidnapping or abducting in order to murder), 366A (Procuration of minor girl), 376 (Punishment for rape), 370 (Human trafficking) and 302 (Punishment for murder), in addition to charges of sexual assault under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
The accused, who had been in judicial custody for about four months, was granted bail by High Court on May 12.
In the bail petition, Safar Shah’s counsel had claimed that he should be granted bail as the police had failed to file the final chargesheet in the case, despite the statutory period of 90 days being over. Notably, the Public Prosecutor who appeared for the victim, also informed the court the same, that the investigation officials have not filed the chargesheet. The court had even slammed investigation officers for the delay in filing of the chargesheet.
Granting bail to the accused, Justice PV Kunhikrishnan had pointed out in the bail order dated May 12 that despite such a serious case, the investigating officer was not able to complete the investigation within the required period of 90 days.
“A minor girl was kidnapped and brutally raped and murdered by the accused, is the allegation. Even in such a case, the investigating officer was not able to complete the investigation within 90 days,” the judge said.
However, it soon surfaced that the court was, in fact, misled by the accused as well as the prosecution.
Speaking to TNM, investigation officers said that they had filed chargesheet 84 days after the crime.
“Though there was a certain delay due to the lockdown, we submitted the chargesheet on May 1, which was the 84th day. The accused had tried to get bail from a lower court, but that was denied. He approached the High Court again and got bail. The proceedings of the court during that period were held through video conference. It was probably some miscommunication or a technical glitch,” Central Circle Inspector S Vijayashankar told TNM.
He also added that the accused would not have been granted bail if the court was told the chargesheet had been filed.
Sources also told TNM that the High Court registrar was intimated about the issue on the same day that the accused was granted bail.
“After the accused was granted bail through video conference proceedings, as per rules, he was produced before the magistrate for executing the order. But the magistrate was aware that police had already filed chargesheet, so the HC registrar was intimated about the issue on the same day,” the source said.
But it was only on Monday (June 1), after media reports alleged a ‘nexus’ between prosecution and defence, the state government filed a criminal miscellaneous application before the High Court, admitting its 'inadvertent' mistake and sought to recall the bail application filed by the accused, which led to the granting of bail.
The application also said submitted that there was every chance that the accused would intimidate the witness in the case. TNM tried to get in touch with the public prosecutor, but multiple calls to him went unanswered.
Observing that the accused obtained bail by playing fraud in court, Justice PV Kunhikrishnan of the Kerala High Court ordered that Safar be arrested immediately. The court also stated that bail order can be recalled, as that is the only remedy in this circumstance. But the court said it will make a final decision only after hearing the accused.
The court also recorded that the counsel for the accused has apologised. “He (the defence counsel) submitted that he has an experience of only three years as a lawyer and it is due to a communication gap that he submitted a petition like that. He requested the court not to proceed against him. This can be considered at the time of final hearing of this petition,” the court said.
The accused's arrest has now been recorded. The matter will be considered again on June 3.
(With inputs PTI)