16 years, 12 probes, but truth remains hidden

via Pioneer News Service | Kochi published on September 4, 2008

The legal circles and the general public in Kerala are happy that the High Court has ensured the continuance of the investigations into the Sr Abhaya murder case, but they are still skeptical about a just conclusion to the 16-year-old case. There are new doubts in the minds of the people about the case, which had seen several controversies including an alleged interference from the Prime Minister’s Office during Narasimha Rao’s tenure, as Thursday’s verdict transferring the case to the Kerala unit of the CBI has not gone into the new complications of who tampered with the narco-analysis CDs.

Justice Ramkumar has given a clean chit to the Central Forensic Sciences Laboratory in Bangalore, where the narco-analyses on two Catholic priests and a nun were held and to Dr Malini who supervised the procedures and Dr B Mohan, the director of the lab. He also pulled up the Delhi-based CBI unit which probed the case for various matters. Still, the mystery over the alleged tampering with the CDs of the narco-analyses had not been looked into in the judgement.

CBI counsel MVS Namboothiri complained about this. He said the court did not consider the accurate information it had given regarding the manipulations with the CD. “We had found the exact times – all outside the office times – when the recordings on the CD were created or edited according to the examination of the disk’s properties. But the court has not looked into it,” he said.

What had happened was that the court rejected whatever information was given by the CBI but agreed with the particulars given by the laboratory, he said. Nothing about the information the CBI provided was there in the judgement, he said.

The court, which had from the very beginning, found problems with the conduct of the CBI investigation, had aired doubts about the authenticity of the CD it gave in the court with regard to the narco-tests on Fr Thomas M Kottoor, Fr Jose Puthrukayil and Sr Steffi. It was after this Justice Ramkumar called for the direct information from the Bangalore lab. It said the CBI had been given three CDs but the agency said there was only one, and that too perhaps contained manipulated data.

However, Namboothiri said the verdict was not against the CBI. The court had criticised DYSP AK Aggarwal and asked for action against him, he said, pointing out that the court had once again given the case to the CBI itself, though to its Kerala unit.

AX Varghese, counsel for Sr Abhaya’s father M Thomas, however, described the verdict as historic end of unprecedented nature. He said the judgement had clearly analysed the commissions and omissions by the CBI court. “More than everything else, the court has said that if the officials (of the Kerala unit of the CBI) feel that there are efforts to prevent or influence the probe, they can approach the court’s Registrar General,” Varghese said.

However, the legal fraternity generally was not convinced about the smooth conduct of the case despite the best efforts by the Judiciary. “In the last 15 years, 12 officials had probed the case, and now a thirteenth investigation force is coming into the scene. But what we see now is a more complicated legal and investigational situation for the case. Still, let us trust in the power of Truth,” said a senior lawyer of the High Court.

Legal experts are skeptical about the possibility of the Kerala unit of the CBI to take the case to its just conclusion. They point out that it was not the lack of efficient officials that had prevented the truth from coming out so far but some very real unseen hands that worked behind the scene, as the court had perhaps rightly observed.

“The court asks why the case was given to CBI’s Delhi unit when it has a Kerala unit. I have my doubts. If a team from Delhi, which is so far away from Kottayam, where the crime took place, could be influenced by these unseen hands what about the Kochi unit which is so near to Kottayam?” asked the senior lawyer.

He also said that with rights activist Jomon Puthenpurekkal, who had pursued the case for the past 16 years, taken away from the scene – “the court must have its reasons” – there would be a big vacuum if the investigations fumbled once again.

“I am not sure about Jomon’s intentions or the cleanliness of his hands, but every time the probe had fumbled, he had managed to resurrect it somehow through his public interest litigations,” he said.

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