On a day best described as miserable, the special CBI court hearing the Aarushi case adjourned proceedings in the early afternoon. There was no power (the northern grid had failed); there was torrential rain; and there were huge traffic jams in Delhi and its suburbs. By lunchtime, the lawyers at the Ghaziabad district court had called a strike because their clients couldn't turn up.
But at the CBI's fast track court number two, a key prosecution witness braved the conditions to come and depose. Dr B.K. Mohapatra, senior scientific officer at the Central Forensic Science Laboratory, New Delhi, waded across the flooded courtyard of the complex, carrying a bag of files and settled down to record his 'examination-in-chief.'
Dr Mohapatra, a forensic scientist who has conducted tests in about 500 cases, and appeared as a witness in nearly 50, has been involved with the Aarushi case from the day the CBI sought forensic opinion in early June 2008. CFSL provided the CBI a range of analyses—for fingerprints, serology and chemistry. Dr Mohapatra's job was to ascertain the presence of blood or DNA in the samples his lab received.
Dr Mohapatra submitted his reports within weeks of the CBI's request, and on Tuesday, the samples he tested were brought before the court in sealed cardboard boxes that contained items as various as bedsheets, remnants of viscera, a "colourless fluid" from the cooler on the roof, and scrapings of concrete. What tied all of them together was the fact that they were tested for the presence of blood—some of them contained traces, others did not.
For the CBI, one item was of particular interest. The bottle of Ballantine's from which "partial DNA" of a "male and a female" could be generated, according to Dr Mohapatra. The specks of blood on the bottle belong to the victims, Aarushi and Hemraj, says the CBI. The implication is that they got there because the killer/s handled the bottle. The conjecture that follows is that no "outsider" would be foolish enough to come back to the flat and drink whiskey after committing two murders; ergo it must have been the parents.
The bottle of Ballantine's is the only exhibit presented so far that contains traces of blood of both victims. Held up in court today were items from Aarushi's room: a printed bedsheet, a pillow-case, portions of the pillow and mattress she lay on. These, according to Dr Mohapatra contain only "female DNA". In its closure report, the CBI had admitted that one of the gaps in the case was that no traces of Hemraj's blood could be found in Aarushi's room. Filling this "gap" is critical, because the prosecution's version of the sequence of events of that night begins with Hemraj's presence in Aarushi's room.
As of now, the gap remains. Of the 24 "parcels" of evidence to the opened, only 7 had their seals broken by the time the court adjourned on Tuesday. The process is a lengthy one—each item, including things like undergarments belonging to the deceased, have to be held up by the prosecution and shown to the court. Dr Mohapatra's technical comments on each sample, is then placed on record in more accessible language.
Given the number of items involved, Dr Mohapatra's deposition, and the cross examination that will follow, this is going to take several more hearings. Add to that the fact that many of the items did the rounds of two other laboratories, whose scientists submitted their own reports, and it becomes obvious that the trial isn't going to be short.
Factor in the rain, the power cuts, and the strikes, and a vision of the immediate future falls in place. It contains witnesses wading through the flooded court complex, the typist throwing up his hands because the UPS won't work, lawyers agitating, and the judge saying 'adjourned'.
The hearing resumes on Wednesday.
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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