The Supreme Court on Monday sought to know the status of trial in a rape case involving self-styled preacher Asaram Bapu and asked the Gujarat government to file a progress report on it. The apex court, which has earlier rejected several bail pleas by Asaram and was on Monday hearing one more application moved by him, asked the state government to file the report by January 22.
“Tell us what is the stage of trial in the pending cases against him. The state government should file the status report by January 22,” a bench of Justices N V Ramana and A M Sapre said.
Senior advocate Siddharth Luthra and advocate Saurabh Ajay Gupta, appearing for petitioner Asaram, said there were two cases pending against him — one each in Gujarat and Rajasthan.
“In the Gujarat case, out of 92 witnesses, 22 material witnesses have been examined, 14 of them are dropped and rest need to be examined,” he said. Counsel appearing for Gujarat government said she needed some time to file the report. The bench listed the matter for January 22 for further hearing at the request of the counsel.
On August 28, the apex court had expressed anguish over the tardy pace of progress in the rape case and had asked the state government to file the report. It had told the state government that directions for expediting recording of evidence were given in April last year, even after which there was a delay in the trial.
On April 12 last year, the apex court had asked the Gujarat trial court to expedite the recording of evidence of prosecution witnesses in a sexual assault case lodged by two Surat-based sisters against Asaram. It had asked the Surat trial court to record the testimonies of the 46 remaining prosecution witnesses, including the alleged rape victims.
Earlier, the top court had refused to grant bail to Asaram on various grounds in the two sexual assault cases lodged in Rajasthan and Gujarat.
The apex court, while dismissing his bail plea on January 30 last year, had observed that Asaram had placed a “fictitious document” to persuade the court to grant him bail and ordered registration of an FIR against those responsible for preparing and filing the alleged fake papers.
The Gujarat government had then told the top court that the rape case registered against Asaram would very likely proceed in an expeditious manner and trial would be completed in six months. The two Surat-based sisters had lodged separate complaints against Asaram and his son Narayan Sai, accusing them of rape and illegal confinement among other charges.
The elder sister, in her complaint against Asaram, had accused him of repeated sexual assaults between 2001 and 2006 when she was staying at his ashram near Ahmedabad. In the case in Rajasthan, a teenage girl had accused him of sexual assault at his ashram in Manai village near Jodhpur. The girl, who belonged to Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh, was a student living in the ashram.
The apex court had noted that trial in the matter had been unnecessarily prolonged and the prosecution witnesses were being attacked, which had resulted in the death of two witnesses.
It had on November 18 last year sought the response of the Centre and five states on a plea seeking a CBI probe into the alleged murder of children and attacks on several witnesses in the Asaram rape cases. Asaram was arrested by Jodhpur Police on August 31, 2013 and has been in jail since then.