The Jammu and Kashmir High Court has ordered the transfer of the trial in a nine-year-old molestation case against a former Congress minister from a court in Srinagar to Jammu on his request, saying it cannot be stated that his apprehension of not receiving a fair trial in the valley is “unfounded”.
Former health minister Shabir Ahmad Khan was booked for molestation on February 6, 2014 on the complaint of a woman doctor, the wife of a prominent separatist leader, at Shaheed Gunj police station in Srinagar, which had led to his resignation the next day.
Khan filed a petition in the high court, seeking transfer of his trial from the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Srinagar to any other court of parallel jurisdiction in Jammu on the plea that he is apprehensive of a fair and impartial trial given the threat to his lawyer and surcharged atmosphere in the jam-packed court during the proceedings.
“…it is a fact of common knowledge that incidents of attacks on mainstream politicians and the people who do not subscribe to the separatists ideology are still taking place in Kashmir Valley.
“Therefore, it cannot be stated that apprehension expressed by the petitioner to his life at Srinagar while facing trial before the court is unfounded,” Justice Sanjay Dhar has said in his four-page order on Wednesday.
The case was registered under Section 354 (assault or criminal force on a woman with the intention to outrage her woman) and Section 509 (word, gesture or act intended to outrage the modesty of a woman) of the RPC.
According to the complaint lodged against Khan, he allegedly tried to make advances towards the woman and molest her when she visited his office in the civil secretariat on January 28.
The woman said in her complaint that she felt uncomfortable and quickly left the room after the minister allegedly tried to molest her.
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However, Khan had contested the charges and said he has been falsely implicated in the case.
According to the petitioner, he engaged the service of Advocate Mohd Abdullah Pandit but he received threats to his life and withdrew, while two more lawyers refused to take up the case.
“Notice of the application was sent to the respondent/State as well as to the complainant. The State has put in its appearance but no objections to the application have been filed, despite a lapse of seven years from the date of its filing,” the high court said, adding the complainant has neither put in her appearance nor objections to the application.
“The contention of the petitioner that at least three advocates of Srinagar whom he had approached to take up his case, showed their inability to do so, has remained un-rebutted. Therefore, the apprehension of the petitioner that he will not receive a fair trial of the case at Srinagar, appears to be well founded,” the judge said.
The court allowed the petition of Khan and withdrew the case from the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Srinagar and transferred it to the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Jammu.
“It is however, directed that the petitioner shall bear diet and travel expenses of all the prosecution witnesses, excepting those belonging to police department,” the court said.
It directed the parties to appear before the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Jammu on April 12, by which date, Chief Judicial Magistrate, Srinagar shall transfer the original record of the file to it.