Sometimes, when it appears that nothing much is happening, a lot actually is. That there was scant progress in the Aarushi-Hemraj trial on Thursday is full of implications. Chief among them being the impact the lost day will have on how long Aarushi's mother, co-accused Nupur Talwar, stays behind bars.
Dr B.K. Mohapatra, the forensic scientist who was to be cross-examined came to court at 10.30 in the morning. For a number of complicated reasons, no lawyer from the defence would cross-examine him.
The defence explained these reasons in an application. It said it needed the expertise of its counsel G.P. Thareja, a lawyer who understood forensics, for Dr Mohaptra’s cross-examination. Thareja does the case pro bono for the Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, but is available only on two days of the week. On Thursday, he had official duties to attend to at the Delhi High Court.
Five lawyers make appearances for the Talwars in the trial court, but this was down to three on Thursday. Apart from Thareja, Satyaketu Singh was away in Meerut -- he has been blessed with a grandson.
As the trial judge urged its lawyers to begin cross-examination, the defence filed an application saying they were not competent to conduct it. Dr Mohapatra, in a sharp blue shirt, his bag of papers on the table in front of him, kept waiting.
What is happening in the trial court now is a consequence of the Supreme Court order of 13 August adjourning Nupur Talwar’s bail hearing till next month. Opposing bail for Nupur, the CBI had argued that she might “tamper” witnesses (sic) who were yet to be examined if she were at large. The agency submitted a list of 13 witnesses about whom they had these fears.
The Supreme Court heard the argument, asked the CBI how long the examination of these 13 would take. The agency assured the court it would take a month. The court then adjourned the hearing to 17 September, directing the CBI to expedite the examination of the 13, and told the defence to “cooperate in all respects in the cross-examination”.
The problem for the defence was Dr Mohapatra’s examination. This was already in progress, and would probably take up all the time available at the trial court by the time Nupur’s bail hearing came up again in the Supreme Court.
Dr Mohapatra is connected with a huge mass of evidence. He had to depose 152 exhibits -- many of which had to be physically held up in court. He had to testify on 8 separate forensic reports. He had to provide details of every seal, noting and letter that concerned the Central Forensic Science Laboratory. It took four working days just to record his statement; this was finally completed on Tuesday.
By then the Supreme Court order had already come. The defence moved an application pleading the forensics man’s cross-examination -- a crucial piece in the case, but bound to be lengthy -- would be taken up after the trial court was done with the 13 witnesses named by the CBI.
The trial judge rejected this application forthwith, effectively telling the defence that the witnesses on the Supreme Court list would only be called after Dr Mohapatra’s cross-examination was completed.
On Thursday, the defence put up the application once again, this time in greater detail. It submitted that Dr Mohapatra’s cross-examination would take at least 6 or 7 court dates. And that the Talwars had just one lawyer competent to conduct it, whose availability was an issue, as it was on Thursday.
The defence’s plea was that the examination of those in the list of 13 would go well beyond the next Supreme Court hearing, possibly prolonging Nupur’s stay in jail. It asked the court to reconsider calling the other witnesses first and returning to Dr Mohapatra’s cross examination after their examination was completed. It also assured the court that it would not seek any adjournments during this process.
The CBI counsel replied that repeated applications were being filed “just to delay the trial”.
Commenting on the fact that the defence had kept a witness waiting for the whole day, the trial judge issued a terse directive saying, “in the interest of justice” he was giving the Talwar’s one “last opportunity” to cross-examine the witness on 21 August.
That is when the trial resumes.
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Currently a visiting fellow at INSEAD, France, Avirook Sen has been a journalist and writer for over 20 years. A former resident editor of Hindustan Times (Mumbai) and editor of Mid-Day, he has written with passion and insight on subjects as varied as sport and terrorism for top publications across the world. His first book, Looking for America, was published in 2010 to enthusiastic reviews. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org