The gangrape and murder of a young Telangana woman in 2019 triggered public fury
The Supreme Court on Tuesday gave a third six-month extension to a judicial panel investigating Cyberabad Police's shooting of four men accused of the gang-rape and murder of a Telangana veterinarian in November 2019.
The four were shot dead in December of that year, reportedly as they tried to escape from custody after being taken to the scene of the crime for forensic reconstructions.
The court told the panel, which is headed by retired top court judge Justice VS Sirpurkar and was supposed to submit its report six months after being set up on December 12, 2019 - that this would be the final extension, reminding it that two such have already been granted.
"Why is this matter going on and on... it is not a big matter," Chief Justice NV Ramana asked, to which the lawyer for the panel said examination of witnesses had been delayed by the pandemic.
"Is it necessary to question 130 witnesses?" an unconvinced Chief Justice responded.
The Chief Justice pointed out that a report into the killing of gangster Vikas Dubey - in a gunfight with Uttar Pradesh Police in July last year - was filed within a year despite the Covid situation.
"Why is this being delayed?" the Chief Justice asked.
Having flagged concerns over the delayed report, the two-member bench of Chief Justice Ramana and Justice Surya Kant finally agreed to a third extension. "Okay. Six months (more)," the court said.
The panel was set up after advocate Gs Mani petitioned the top court for a SIT probe and an independent investigation against the police officers involved in the gunfight.
In December 2019, the four men accused of the gangrape and murder of a 26-year-old woman were taken to the scene of the crime by Cyberabad Police in a bid to reconstruct their actions.
Then came a shocking twist to a crime that horrified the nation and triggered massive protests - the police claimed the accused started attacking them with sticks and stones, and that some even managed to snatch their weapons and open fire, triggering a gunfight that ended with their deaths.
"All four accused got together and started attacking the police party. Officers maintained restraint and asked them to surrender but without listening to us they kept firing. Our officers retaliated," VC Sajjanar, Cyberabad police chief, told reporters.
The deaths of the four accused were met with mixed reactions; several people praised the police for their reactions, including badminton ace Saina Nehwal and late actor Rishi Kapoor.
Others, however, lamented "encounter" killings.
Among them were Congress MP Karti Chidambaram, who tweeted: "Rape is an heinous crime... while I hold no brief for the alleged perpetrators ... "encounter" killings are a blot to our system."
BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi said the incident had set a "horrifying precedent" for the country.
Senior lawyers Vrinda Grover and Karuna Nundy also slammed the killings, pointing out that such police action is "unacceptable" and that the accused's guilt could now never truly be established.
The woman's father, understandably, had no complaint to make, telling news agency ANI: "It has been 10 days to the day my daughter died. I express my gratitude towards the police and the government for this. My daughter's soul must be at peace now."
On November 27, the accused saw the young woman park her scooter near a toll-booth on a busy highway. They allegedly deflated a tyre and took her to a truck yard with the promise of fixing it. Once there they raped and strangled her, and burnt her body to destroy evidence.