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Law

Nithari Murders: "Botched" Probe Led To Acquittal By Allahabad HC

In 2006, the sensational Nithari Killings came to light when the police recovered the skeletal remains of women and children.

By - Ritika Jain | 16 Oct 2023 6:33 PM GMT

The sensational 2006 Nithari Killings containing elements of rape, murder, pornography, and cannibalism ended with an acquittal after the Allahabad High Court questioned the confession and observed the probe was completely “botched up.”

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) failed to probe the possible involvement of organ trading while acquitting the prime accused Surinder Kohli and his employer Moninder Singh Pandher, the high court said while reversing the trial court’s conviction and setting aside the death penalty.

“This fact was known to the investigating agencies as is seen from the evidence of the Investigating Officer,” Justices Ashwani Kumar Mishra and Syed Aftab Husain Rizvi observed.

Almost 17 years after the first remains were found, the high court reversed a trial court’s conviction of the duo and set aside the death penalty awarded to them. Kohli was acquitted in all the 12 cases against him, while Pandher was acquitted in the two cases against him.

“The stand of the prosecution regarding the crime in question kept changing from time to time,” the high court added.

The investigation opted for the “easy course” of implicating the “poor servant” by “demonizing him”, the division bench of the high court observed. The high court was hearing a plea for the confirmation of the death penalty awarded by the trial court.

“…we hold that prosecution has failed to prove the guilt of accused SK (Kohli) and Pandher beyond reasonable doubt, on the settled parameters of a case based on circumstantial evidence,” the judgment read.

BOOM recaps the 2006 Nithari Killings and the high court judgment acquitting the prime accused.

Missing women, children and recovery of skeletons: the Nithari murders

In 2006, barely 40 kilometers from the national capital, the village of Nithari gained infamy when its women and children went missing. After months of probe, Kohli allegedly confessed to the killings and led the Uttar Pradesh Police to the spot where skeletons remains of at least 19 women and children were recovered from the drain near his employer Pandher’s house.

Kohli also allegedly led the police to the murder weapon – a mud-stained knife recovered from under the water tank, along with the clothes of one of the missing (and presumed dead) women.

From the sewer drain passing by the house, the police recovered more body parts and items belonging to missing victims.

The high court, while appreciating the evidence, also examined the site plan and discovered that a doctor who apparently was a suspect in a case of organ trade (kidney transplant) lived opposite Pandher’s house.

This proved to be important because the high court concluded that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)—which took over the probe from UP Police—simply focused on Kohli by “demonizing” the “poor servant” and failed to probe any possibility of organised activity of organ trading.

“All the recoveries are either made from the enclosed service lane which is shown in the map as no man’s land or from the sewer drainage situated beyond the boundary of House no. D-5 (Pandher’s house) and D-6 (the doctor suspected of organ trade). None of the recovery of skull, bones/skeleton is made from within the House No. D-5,” the High Court noted.

“The failure of investigation to probe the possible involvement of organ trade, despite specific recommendations made by the High-Level Committee, constituted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Govt. of India, in Nithari killings is nothing short of a betrayal of public trust by responsible agencies,” the judgment read.

Prolonged, uninterrupted police custody before confession, allegations of torture: High Court

The high court voiced dismay over how the prosecution’s entire case rested on Kohli’s confession. The division bench said Kohli’s confession could not be considered as it was recorded after 60 days of police remand without any medical examination of the accused; provision of legal aid; overlooking specific allegations of torture in the confession itself; and failure to comply with the requirement of Section 164 CrPC.

It noted that Kohli retracted his confession at the “first opportunity” and “alleged that he was brutally tortured while in police custody”.

“He offered to be medically examined as his genitals were burnt and his nails had been extracted but the accused was not examined medically,” the high court noted. The absence of any medical examination had rendered Kohli’s confession “unreliable”, it said.

“What exactly is the nature of injuries caused to him on 25.1.2007 remains unknown. Why was the accused not examined medically by the prosecution is unknown. In case the accused was examined medically then the non-production of such medical report is a matter of still greater concern,” the high court queried.

“The manner in which the accused has been dealt with by the prosecution during the period of 60 days remains unknown,” the high court noted.

“However, with the passage of time, the guilt was fastened exclusively upon the accused SK (Kohli). Prosecution evidence has kept changing with the stage of investigation and ultimately all explanations are furnished in the form of confession of accused SK, by throwing all possible safeguards to the winds,” the judgment noted.