New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the proceedings before the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) against an accused in the Kathua gangrape and murder case that shook the conscience of the nation. The accused was believed to be a minor at the time of the incident. But after the Jammu and Kashmir administration claimed that the Jammu and Kashmir High Court had erroneously affirmed the order of a trial court holding him as a juvenile at the time of the offence in 2018, the SC bench stayed the proceedings going on in the Juvenile Justice Board,

The matter will be heard on March 16.

Senior advocate P S Patwalia, appearing for J&K administration, said the high court had on October 11, 2019, wrongly affirmed the trial court order of March 27, 2018, without appreciating that the date of birth recorded in the municipal and school records are contradictory to each other. He said that despite the notice to the ‘minor’ accused issued by the apex court on January 6 on the administration’s appeal, the JJB has continued its proceeding against the accused, treating him as a juvenile. Patwalia contended that the accused is one of the main conspirators of the entire incident and kidnapped, gang-raped and murdered the victim. He said that medical board constituted by the high court by its order of February 21, 2018, had opined that the accused was aged between 19 to 23 years at the time of the offence, reported PTI.

The top court on May 7, 2018, transferred the trial of the case from Kathua in Jammu to Pathankot in Punjab and ordered for day-to-day trial after some lawyers prevented the Crime Branch officials from filing a charge sheet in the sensational case. The special court on June 10 last year sentenced three men to life imprisonment till last breath.

Sanji Ram, the mastermind and caretaker of the ‘devasthanam’ (temple) where the crime took place in January 2018; Deepak Khajuria, a Special Police Officer, and Parvesh Kumar, a civilian — the three main accused –were spared death penalty, a punishment sought by the prosecution during the year-long in-camera trial in the court.

The three who were given life term were convicted under Ranbir Penal Code (RPC) sections relating to criminal conspiracy, murder, kidnapping, gang rape, destruction of evidence, drugging the victim and common intention. The other three accused — sub-inspector Anand Dutta, head constable Tilak Raj and special police officer Surender Verma — were convicted for destruction of evidence to cover up the crime and handed down five years in jail and Rs 50,000 fine each. The trial court had acquitted the seventh accused Vishal Jangotra, son of Sanji Ram, giving him the ‘benefit of doubt’.

According to prosecution, the eight-year-old girl was kidnapped on January 10, 2018, and was raped in captivity in a small village temple, exclusively manned by Ram, after keeping her sedated for four days. She was later bludgeoned to death.

(With Agency Inputs)