Highlights of judgment on Shivani Bhatnagar murder

October 12th, 2011 - 8:13 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, Oct 12 (IANS) The Delhi High Court Wednesday acquitted former Indian Police Service officer R.K. Sharma and two others in the 1999 murder of journalist Shivani Bhatnagar. The highlights of the 84-page verdict of Justice B.D. Ahmed and Justice Manmohan Singh are:

- The three appellants, R.K. Sharma, Sri Bhagwan Sharma and Satya Prakash, get the benefit of doubt and they stand acquitted of all charges.

- The three, sentenced to life imprisonment, are directed to be released forthwith, if not required in any other case.

- In the case of fourth convict, Pradeep Sharma, while the charge under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) Section 120B (criminal conspiracy) is not proved, his conviction under IPC Section 302 (murder) and sentence thereon stands confirmed. He shall serve out the rest of his sentence.

- The prosecution has failed to establish the linkages between Pradeep Sharma and other accused through the said four alleged phone calls of Jan 23, 1999. In fact, there is no evidence of any phone calls between Pradeep Sharma and the other appellants.

- Once the link between Pradeep Sharma and the other appellants, insofar as the crime is concerned, is snapped, there is serious doubt about the involvement of the others.

- Although the motive behind Pradeep Sharma killing Shivani Bhatnagar is unclear and has not been established, we have already found, on the basis of other overwhelming scientific and circumstantial evidence, that Pradeep Sharma was the person who killed Shivani Bhatnagar.

- Did he act alone? Did he act at the behest of R.K. Sharma and the other appellants or did he act at the instance of someone else? These are questions which we cannot answer on the basis of the material before us.

- The quality of evidence before us is not of a high calibre.

- Judges, like other human beings, also have suspicions but, judges, unlike others who are free to arrive at their own conclusions, cannot and do not convict on the basis of mere suspicion.

- The prosecution has to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. We are afraid that the prosecution, in our view, has failed to do so insofar as appellants R.K. Sharma, Sri Bhagwan Sharma and Satya Prakash are concerned.

- The prosecution, however, succeeded in proving its case insofar as Pradeep Sharma is concerned. Consequently, Pradeep Sharma’s conviction under IPC Section 302 (murder) stands confirmed and so does the sentence awarded to him.

- Even as per the prosecution case, Pradeep Sharma was not part of the conspiracy in the early stages, when it was allegedly hatched in December 1998. He was also not party to the alleged meeting (between accused) at Ashoka Hotel Jan 13, 1999.

- It is only thereafter, as alleged by the prosecution, that Satya Prakash, as a part of the agreed conspiracy, contacted his nephew Pradeep Sharma and required him to liquidate Shivani Bhatnagar and to meet him at Sunder Nagar Market Jan 19, 1999.

- It is alleged that on that date, Pradeep Sharma met Satya Prakash as arranged, and the other co-accused Sri Bhagwan Sharma was also present. Satya Prakash, once again, persuaded Pradeep Sharma to take up the task and allegedly assured him that he would be reinstated in HUDA (Haryana Urban Development Authority), where he had worked, and that the case pending against him in Chandigarh would be finished if he did the job.

- It is also alleged that Pradeep Sharma demanded a sum of Rs.3 lakh in addition to the above mentioned favours and this was conveyed to Sri Bhagwan Sharma, who paid him a sum of Rs.50,000 as advance.

- These allegations have not been substantiated by any evidence. They are merely made on the basis of disclosure statements allegedly made by the accused which, without leading to any discovery of any fact, would not be admissible in evidence.

- There is no evidence that Satya Prakash had engaged the services of Pradeep Sharma. There is no evidence that a meeting between Pradeep Sharma and Satya Prakash and Sri Bhagwan Sharma actually took place Jan 19, 1999.

- There is no evidence that a sum of Rs.50,000 was paid by Sri Bhagwan Sharma to Pradeep Sharma or that the latter had agreed to do the job for a sum of Rs.3 lakh and other favours.

- The only link is the relationship between Satya Prakash and Pradeep Sharma but that alone is insufficient for linking Satya Prakash and the rest (other than Pradeep Sharma) with the crime.

- The high court had reserved its verdict Dec 21 last year on appeals by R.K. Sharma and three other convicts who were serving life term in the Tihar Jail.

- According to the prosecution, R.K. Sharma had provided certain classified documents to Shivani that led to her murder as the journalist wanted to make the documents public.

- Shivani, a journalist with the Indian Express, was murdered at her Navkunj Apartments flat at I.P. Extension in east Delhi Jan 23, 1999.

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