Ruchika molestation case: While upholding the conviction of Rathore, Supreme Court reduces the sentence
The Supreme Court last week ( 23 September 2016) confirmed the conviction of former Haryana DGP SPS Rathore, accused of outraging the modesty of Ruchika, a budding tennis player who committed suicide, under Section 354 of the IPC while modifying the sentence to the period already undergone.
Regarding the sentence of Rathore, his advocate pointed out certain “mitigating factors” like old age, health ailments, responsibility of looking after the unmarried daughter suffering from congenital heart disease, past meritorious service and prolonged trial.
Keeping these in view, especially “the old age and physical condition of Rathore”, the two judge Bench of Supreme Court comprising Justice V. Gopala Gowda and Justice R.K. Agrawal, said in its order: “we do not think it expedient to put him back in jail. While we uphold the findings as to the guilt of the appellant-accused, we are of the opinion that the cause of justice would be best sub-served when the sentence of the appellant-accused would be altered to the period already undergone. We, therefore, reduce the sentence of the appellant to the period already undergone by him as a special case considering his very advanced age.”
While disposing of the appeal, Supreme Court said:
“The High Court, on proper re-appreciation of the entire evidence, came to the right conclusion that the prosecution was successful in proving the case beyond reasonable doubt and the offence punishable under Section 354 of the IPC was made out. There is devastating increase in cases relating to crime against women in the world and our country is also no exception to it. Although the statutory provisions provide strict penal action against such offenders, it is for the courts to ultimately decide whether such incident has occurred or not.
The courts should be more cautious in appreciating the evidence and the accused should not be left scot-free merely on flimsy grounds. By the consistent evidence of Aradhana (principal witness), the prosecution has proved beyond reasonable doubt the offence committed by Rathore under Section 354 of the IPC. A charge under Section 354 of the IPC is one which is very easy to make and is very difficult to rebut.”
The order further notes: “…..When a plea is taken by the appellant-accused that he has been falsely implicated, courts have a duty to make deeper scrutiny of the evidence and decide the acceptability or otherwise of the accusations made against him. In the instant case, both the trial court and the High Court have done that. There is no scope for taking a different view from the view already been taken by the courts below.
The occurrence of the overt act is well proved by the unimpeachable testimony of the eye-witness – Aradhana.”
Background of the case
SPS Rathore, an IPS officer, was on deputation with Bhakhra Beas Management Board (BBMB), Chandigarh as Director (Vigilance & Security) when the crime was committed. He also the founded the Haryana Lawn Tennis Association (HLTA) in 1988.
The office of HLTA was established in the garage of. Rathore’s House (No. 469, Sector 6, Panchkula). This was divided into three parts- the front portion was being used as the office of HLTA and the other two portions were being utilized by T. Thomas and Kuldeep Singh, Coach and Manager respectively of the Association for residential purposes.
HLTA enrolled several member players who were mostly nearby residents of Panchkula on payment of monthly subscription.
Ruchika (who later committed suicide), daughter of S.C. Girhotra and Aradhana @ Reemu, daughter of Anand Prakash and Madhu Prakash (the complainant), both aged about 15 years, residents of Panchkula had got themselves enrolled as members of the HLTA. Both of them were good friends and used to go together for practice at the Tennis court.
Rathore was also a frequent visitor to the Tennis court. One day, when Ruchika informed Rathore about her plan to go abroad, he met her on 11 August 1990 to persuade him to not to send his daughter out of the country for specialized tennis coaching and promised that special coaching would be arranged for her at HLTA itself and also asked him to send Ruchika to his office on the very next day in connection with this.
Girhotra gave this information to Ruchika and asked her to meet Rathor in his office the next day, 12 August 1990.
The next day, Ruchika visited her friend Aradhana and told her about Rathore’s visit to her house and also that he had called her to his office. The same day, when both of them were practicing in the tennis court, Paltoo-the ball picker, informed Ruchika that Rathore had called her in his office. When Ruchika, along with Aradhana, went to meet Rathore, they found him standing outside the office. He insisted that they should come inside the office. On his insistence, both the girls went inside. Rathore fetched one chair which was occupied by Aradhana and Ruchika kept standing on the right side of her friend while Rathore sat in his chair which was on the other side of the table. At this moment, Rathore asked Aradhana to go and fetch Mr. Thomas-the Coach. Hence Aradhana went outside leaving behind Rathore and Ruchika in the office. Once outside, Aradhana asked the person who had brought the chair for her to inform the Coach that Rathore had called him. As the coach responded by saying that he was unable to come, Aradhana immediately returned to the office, where she witnessed that Ruchika was in the grip of Rathore, who was holding one of her hands and his other hand was around her waist. He was also pulling her towards his chest and Ruchika was trying to push him back with her free hand.
On seeing Aradhana, who was the principal witness in this case, Rathore got frightened. He released Ruchika and fell on his chair. He once again asked Aradhana to go and personally bring the coach with her. He also insisted that Ruchika should stay in his room, but somehow Ruchika managed to escape. When Aradhana was about to leave with Ruchika, Rathore told her “Ask her to cool down, I will do whatever she will say”. After listening to this, Aradhana also ran behind Ruchika to enquire of the matter. Ruchika narrated the whole incident to her. After they had discussed it, both the girls decided not to inform their parents about it as Rathore, being IG of Police, could harass them and their parents.
On 14 August 1990, Ruchika along with Aradhana went to the lawn tennis court at about 4:30 p.m., instead of their usual timing, in order to avoid Rathore, who used to visit the court in the evening. When both the girls were about to return, at about 6:30 p.m., Paltoo-the ball picker, came out of the court and told Ruchika that Rathore had called her to his office. Ruchika refused to meet him and told her friend Aradhana that since they had not informed their parents how Rathore had misbehaved on 12 August 1990, he was feeling emboldened and had again called her to his office with a view to molest her. Thereafter, both of them decided to inform their parents about the incident.
Ruchika narrated the incident of her molestation to her father – S. C. Girhotra. Also, the parents of Aradhana were told about the entire incident.
On hearing this, SC Girhotra, gathered the residents of the locality, who were mostly parents of trainee boys and girls, and they went to the HLTA office to meet Rathore but they were informed that he had left for Chandigarh. On 15 August 1990, a Memorandum/petition, duly signed by Ruchika, Aradhana, Mr. Anand Prakash and Ms. Madhu Prakash-father and mother of Aradhana, was presented to the then Haryana Home Secretary. After obtaining approval of the Home Minister, R.R. Singh, the then DGP was directed to hold an inquiry into the allegations leveled against Rathore.
After conducting the enquiry into the incident, R.R. Singh concluded that the allegation of molestation is based on true facts and a cognizable case is made out against Rathore under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and forwarded his enquiry report dated 3 September 1990 to the Haryana Home Secretary.
During investigation it was also revealed that after the incident of molestation, Ruchika had confined herself in her house. Later, on 28 December 1993, she consumed poison to commit suicide. She died on 29 December 1993.
The enquiry report by R.R. Singh was examined by the Legal Division of the Government of Haryana in 1990 and 1992 which also recommended for registration of a case against Rathore. Madhu Prakash-the complainant requested several authorities in the Government of Haryana for registration of a case but no action was taken on which she filed a Criminal Writ Petition (No. 1694 of 1997 before the Punjab and Haryana High Court). The High Court, in its order dated 21 August 1998, issued direction to the Superintendent of Police, Panchkula that after registration of the case, the investigation shall be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and it shall be conducted by an officer not below the rank of DIG. This Court, by its order dated 14 December 1999, also upheld the order of the High Court dated 21 August 1998 which culminated into registration of a First Information Report (FIR) (No. 516 of 1999 under Sections 354 and 509 of the IPC at Panchkula Polie station in Haryana against Rathore.
The CBI filed charge-sheet in this case on 16 November 2000 before the Court of Special Judicial Magistrate, CBI, Ambala under Section 354 of the IPC. A petition under Section 473 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 was filed by the CBI for condoning the delay in filing the charge
sheet and for taking cognizance which was allowed by the Court of Special Judicial Magistrate, by order of 5 December 2000. Being aggrieved by this order, Rathore preferred Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 46381 of 2000 before the High Court challenging the condonation of delay. The High Court, by its order on 18 April 2001 dismissed the petition with a direction to the trial court to dispose of the case preferably within six months.
Further, a petition was filed for addition of Section 306 IPC in the charge sheet which was allowed by an order of the Trial Court on 23 October 2001. Being aggrieved by this order, Rathore preferred a Criminal Misc. Petition (No. 44607-M/2011 before the High Court).
The High Court, by its order on 12 February 2002, set aside the order passed on 23 October 2001 by the Trial Court. In appeal, this Court also upheld the order 12 February 2002 passed by the High Court.
The Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Chandigarh, by its judgment and order on 21 December 2009 in Challan No. 3/17-11-2000, 12 T/10.04.2006 RBT191/17-11-2009, held Rathore guilty of offence under Section 354 of the IPC and sentenced him to suffer rigorous imprisonment (RI) for six months along with a fine of Rs. 1,000/-. Being aggrieved by this judgment Rathore preferred a Criminal Appeal (No. 5 of 12 January 2010) before the Court of Additional Sessions Judge, Chandigarh. The CBI and Madhu Pakash- Respondent No. 2 also preferred Criminal Appeal (Nos. 26 of 12.01.2010 and 22 of 05.02.2010 respectively), before the Court for enhancement of sentence. The Additional Sessions Judge, Chandigarh, by his order of 25 May 2010 dismissed the appeal filed by Rathore while allowing the appeals filed by the CBI and Madhu Prakash for inadequacy of the sentence and for enhancement of sentence of imprisonment and Rathore was awarded with rigorous imprisonment for 18 months (one and a half) for committing offence under Section 354 of the IPC. The sentence of fine remained unchanged.
Being aggrieved of the judgment and the order of 25 May 2010, Rathore preferred Criminal Revision (No. 1558 of 2010) before the High Court. The High Court, dismissed the revision filed by Rathore on 1 September 2010.
Aggrieved by the High Court order, Rathore preferred a petition by way of special leave and the Supreme Court by its order on 11 November 2010, allowed the petition filed by Rathore for bail.
Two weeks after Rathore was indicted by the inquiry, Ruchika was expelled from her school in Chandigarh for non-payment of fees. After her expulsion, Ruchika was mostly confined at home. Even if she went out, she was followed by policemen in plain clothes deployed by Rathore to keep a close watch on her and her family.
False cases of theft, and defamation were filed against Ruchika’s father and her younger brother brother Ashu, who was picked up by the pOlice and tortured. After Ashu was paraded in handcuffs in his locality, Ruchika consumed poison.
Cases were also filed against Anand Parkash, his wife Madhu, and their minor daughter Aradhana.