Seek bail from sessions court, apex court tells Shopian cops

NEW DELHI - The Supreme Court Friday directed the two police officers, arrested for allegedly destroying evidence in the Shopian rape and murder case, to approach the district sessions court for their bail, and suspended a Jammu and Kashmir High Court order that they should seek bail only from it.

A bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justice P. Sathasivam asked Shopian Superintendent of Police Javed Iqbal Mattoo and Deputy Superintendent of Police Rohit Bagkotra to approach the sessions court for bail Monday.

Partly setting aside the state high court’s order, the apex court bench severely ticked it off for overstepping its jurisdiction and passing an “illegal order”.

“Why should the high court say that they should move this (high) court only for bail?” Chief Justice Balakrishnan asked the state government’s counsel as they sought to oppose the police officers’ lawsuit seeking bail from the apex court.

During the arguments, senior counsel and former attorney general Harish Salve, appearing for the Jammu and Kashmir government, conceded that the high court had passed an order which was partly illegal and beyond its jurisdiction.

The bench asked the police officers to seek their bail plea from the sessions court despite a fervent plea by their counsel Mukul Rohtagi, who said he was afraid that neither the sessions court nor the high court would give them the bail and he would eventually have to come to the apex court ten days later.

The apex court bench, accordingly, directed the sessions court to “consider the bail plea of the police officers on merit, without getting influenced by the high court’s observation or the order.”

As Rohtagi expressed apprehension to the safety of advocates representing the two police officers in the surcharged atmosphere of Shopian town, the bench asked the local police to provide adequate security to counsel of the two police officers.

The bench also asked the local police to show all their evidence against the police officers to the sessions court.

The apex court, which had July 22 stayed the state high court order for narco test of the police officers, told the state government that if police needed to conduct the test, it would separately take permission from the lower court for the purpose.

The two officers had moved the apex court July 17, challenging the high court’s order for their arrest and collection of blood samples for preparing the DNA profile. The police officers contended the order was passed without hearing them during adjudication of a public interest lawsuit to which they were not parties.

The lawsuit had been filed by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association in connection with rape and murder of 17-year-old Asiya Jan and her 22-year-old sister-in-law Neelofar, whose bodies were recovered near a stream in Shopian May 30, triggering massive protests in the Kashmir Valley.

Mattoo and Baskotra and two other police officers have been accused of destroying evidence in the case.

The police officers said the directions of the high court, which also asked them to undergo narco analysis tests, were “not sustainable” and “in violation of principles of natural justice”.

“The high court has passed an order which affects the very fundamental right of every citizen,” their petition said.

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