PATHANKOT: A senior officer of Jammu and Kashmir's Crime Branch today assured the district and sessions court, conducting the trial in the Kathua rape and murder case, that the police would ensure the presence of prosecution witnesses during the hearing, lawyers said.
The court, which has started recording the statements of witnesses in the case of the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua district, last week expressed dismay over the absence of witnesses despite 17 summons being issued.
Senior Superintendent of Police, Crime Branch, Ramesh Kumar Jalla, who headed the investigation, appeared in the court soon after the day's in-camera proceedings started and assured Judge Tajwinder Singh that the police would ensure the presence of witnesses from here on.
The court had issued directions for the SSP's personal appearance.
The officer assured the court that all the witnesses would depose in the court and record their statements on time in future, defence lawyer Aseem Sawhney told reporters when the court broke for lunch.
According to other lawyers and officials, a prosecution witness today started reconstruction of the entire crime scene before the court and his statement was being recorded.
"Because it is an in-camera trial, we will not be able to disclose anything and are restricting ourselves. What we can say only is that the witnesses have appeared and the proceedings are going on," Sawhney, flanked by other members of his team, said.
He said the public prosecution had filed their objections and an inquiry was in progress on an application moved by the defence counsel about one of the seven accused - Parvesh Kumar alias Mannu - being a juvenile.
Last week, the court, which is hearing the case on directions of the Supreme Court, had framed charges of rape and murder against seven of the eight accused, paving the way for the beginning of the trial against them.
The eighth accused in the brutal rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl at Kathua in January this year is a juvenile, facing trial in a juvenile court in Jammu and Kashmir.
His fate is yet to be decided after the Crime Branch contested his claim that he was a minor.
The accused against whom charges were framed were Sanji Ram, his son Vishal, special police officers Deepak Khajuria alias Deepu and Surinder Verma, Mannu, head constable Tilak Raj, and sub-inspector Arvind Datta, officials had said.
Sanji Ram is the main accused who is alleged to have hatched the conspiracy with the other accused to abduct the girl, part of a carefully planned strategy to remove the minority nomadic community from the area, the Crime Branch charge sheet has alleged.
The district and sessions court has framed charges under various sections of the Ranbir Penal Code (applicable in Jammu and Kashmir).
These include Sections 120-B (criminal conspiracy), 302 (murder) and 376-D (gang rape).
The court had also framed charges for destruction of evidence and under section 328 (causing hurt by poisoning with an intent to hurt) of the RPC.
According to the charge sheet, the victim was held in captivity at a small village temple in Kathua district where she was kept sedated and sexually assaulted before she was bludgeoned to death.
On January 23, about a week after the body was discovered, the government handed over the case to the crime branch, which formed a Special Investigation Team.
The trial in the case began on May 31 with the seven accused being produced before the district and sessions judge after the Supreme Court transferred the case from Jammu and Kashmir to Pathankot for a fair trial following a plea by the victim's family.
While transferring the case from Kathua to Pathankot, about 30 km away, the apex court directed day-to-day in-camera trial in the case.