Is the Goa police botching up the case against Tarun Tejpal?

The case of Tehelka founder and editor-in-chief, Tarun Tejpal, booked for rape of a female colleague during a conference in Goa, is getting murkier by the day. A day after his boss, state DGP Kishen Kumar confirmed the cops had gone through video footage to confirm the incident and even formally charged Tejpalwith rape, Deputy Inspector General (Crime) OP Mishra calleda sudden press conference on Saturday morning to reveal that the five star hotel’s elevator ‘had no CCTV camera installed’.

Protestors in New Delhi burn an image of Tarun Tejpal. AFP Photo 

Legal eagles are questioning the timing of the revelation by the Goa police. Many of them told Sunday MiD DAY that given the admission that there was no CCTV footage of the elevator, the Goa police now have very little prima-facie evidence to establish rape charges against the accused, especially as this case is a suo motu one, which does not have any medical or scientific evidence to prove the prosecution’s case. Also, the very act of calling for an urgent press conference by the DIG even before his own police team could reach Delhi reeks of political pressure, they say.

Tarun Tejpal
Tarun Tejpal/Pic AFP

DIG Mishra, in his press briefing stated, “The hotel authorities have told us that they have no cameras in the elevator. We are getting a detailed layout of cameras from other areas of the hotel to make a detailed analysis.” He further said, “Some CCTV footage has been received from the hotel but could not be immediately examined because of technical issues and other logistics. We will follow the standard operating procedure of investigation in the case.”

It was evident that there was more to it than meets the eye, when Sunday MiD DAY contacted DIG Mishra and asked him tough questions about whether this new discovery of that there being no CCTV cameras inside the elevator, would hamper investigations. His reply: “Sorry, I cannot divulge any part of the ongoing investigation.” When reminded that he had just told the whole world about the same ongoing investigation through a press conference, the DIG said, “No, no, I was not under any pressure. The press conference was held because the media was calling us continuously.” But then why did he have to leak out this very important piece of information about the lack of CCTV footage, we asked. The DIG disconnected the line abruptly.

When asked if such revelations by the police in an ongoing case could hamper investigations, senior criminal lawyer, Majeed Memon said, “The alleged act is said to have been committed inside the elevator on both occasions. Till now, people were anxious to know about the recorded footage of CCTV inside the elevator. Other than this piece of evidence, there is hardly anything substantive evidence, which could nail the accused for rape. In this case, the victim has also chosen not to lodge the FIR herself. In my opinion the police ought to have registered attempt to rape as the offence and then looked for substantive evidence to press further charges, which they have not done. In the absence of primary evidence, the investigating agency will have a difficult task ahead to prove rape.”

Advocate Vikram Varma, who practices in Goa, too, expressed similar views and apprehension. He said, “From media reports on November 22, I understood that the video footage of the crime had been examined by the police. I was surprised to learn today that no such video footage exists. A lack of supporting evidence will certainly weaken the case. If no video footage of the crime existed, how could a preliminary inquiry conclude rape? It is important to understand at this stage why the public was misled with regard to the existence of video footage of the alleged crime.”

“Tejpal’s confession is inadmissible as evidence for the sections charged. For any crime against women, I do feel that far more energy must be spent in gathering admissible evidence for justice to be done,” he said. Senior council Adik Shirodkar too expressed similar views by saying, “CCTV footage is an additional clinching evidence. Its absence means that evidence is not available, and the entire investigation proceeds on the basis of the complainant’s statementand whether any witness is available to corroborate her statement. Even if the police have invoked sections of rape but are not able to support it with any direct, circumstantial or corroborative evidence, the court can drop the said sections at the time of framing of the charges.”

Shirodkar added that by holding a press conference and divulging a crucial piece of evidence, the cops may have acted in haste and it could lead to obstacles in the investigation. Speaking to SMD, Chief Public Prosecutor for NIA, Rohini Salian said, “It seems that the police were too quick to register theoffence under charges of rape, before recording the statement of the victim. The CCTV footage of the accused and victim coming out of the elevator only adds power to the evidence, which supports the victim’s complaint, but to establish the act of alleged rape inside the elevator, the police will have to look for direct and other material evidence.”

She expressed her displeasure in the manner in which the DIGheld a press briefing and passed a crucial piece of information, which was unwarranted, especially when the investigations have just begun. Such leaks can help the accused, she said. National Commission for Woman (NCW) reacts Nirmala Samant Prabhvalkar, chairperson, (NCW), expressed her displeasure in the manner in which the Goa police were sharing information. She said, “We have appreciated the Goa police for registering the offence suo moto, but if the police are sharing information and telling the world about the lack of CCTV camera in elevator, it clearly looks like deviation from the code of conduct, and it would only help the accused. Also, the possibility of evidences being tampered with cannot be ruled out. The prosecution agency should ensure that they work towards collecting all form of evidence to give justice to the victim by presenting a strong case against the accused.”

When asked if NCW could touch base with the victim, she replied in the affirmative, stating that NCW would provide every possible support to the victim and stand by her. Also, her statement would be recorded soon, she added.

Tejpal may be arrested, victim alleges pressure
Police to question 50-year-old founder of Tehelka news magazine today

The Delhi Police indicated the arrest of Tarun Tejpal even as the victim claimed that she was being pressurised by people close to him. The team is expected to question Tejpal today, even as police sources say that the journalist’s whereabouts are not yet known to the Goa Police. Reports quoting the victim claimed that tejpal’s ‘well-wishers’ had got in touch with her and had started “pressurising her”.

Who said what and when
Goa CM Manohar Parrikar on November 21: “I have ordered a preliminary inquiry after going through the mail that was supposedly sent by the victim and that has been circulated by mediaperson,. All corroborative evidence indicates that incident did occur.”

Parrikar on November 22: “I have given complete authority to the police to investigate the case. I have told them don't worry whether the person is low profile or high profile. Stature does not count. What counts is the crime. You go by what is correct in law,” the chief minister told the police.”

Tarun Tejpal on November 22: “I urge the panel and police to obtain, examine and release the CCTV footage so that the accurate version of the events stands clearly revealed.”

Goa DGP Kishen Kumar on November 22:
“We have gone through the content of the video footage retrieved from the hotel, and prima facie we are satisfied that a cognisable offence can be made out.”

Goa DIG OP Mishra on November 23: “The hotel authorities have told us that they have no specific cameras in the elevator. We are getting a detailed layout of cameras from other areas of the hotel and make a detailed analysis.” Parrikar on November 23: “There is no political pressure in the investigation.”

Twitter buzzing against Tejpal
Over one million comments with the hashtag #Tejpal were recorded in the past 72 hours. With news that Tejpal’s family members had visited the victim’s house in an effort to dissuade her from pursuing the case, the social media site was bombarded with comments from around the world. The victim spoke to the media and said she feared this was “the beginning of a period of intimidation” that she was worried about.

Kiran Bedi @thekiranbedi:
In self confessed sexual assault #Tejpal /Tehelka kind of case the accused would have been already behind bars in USA! Later face Jury trial

bhupendra chaubey @bhupendrachaube51:
Victim claims she is being pressurised by #Tejpal to withdraw What level will we reduce ourselves to? Will lead to all round crisis for media

Pritish Nandy @PritishNandy:
Let’s show some civility and keep #Tejpal's family out of all this. They are innocent people caught unawares.

Geetali Gupta @geetaligupta4:
Can’t believe #Tejpal is now trying to threaten and intimidate the victim. #TarunTejpal #Shame #TehelkaSexScandal

Journalists who have quit Tehelka since November 21: Revati Laul, Jay Mazoomdar, Shougat Dasgupta, Ayesha Siddiqa 

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