Nithari killings, often referred to as the Nithari Hatyakand, are a string of horrific deaths that happened in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh between 2005 and 2006 in the hamlet of Nithari, which is located in the Noida district. Surinder Koli and Moninder Singh Pandher were the main suspects in these horrible atrocities. The investigation and prosecution of individuals implicated in the Nithari killings entailed the use of multiple laws. When the authorities found human remains close to Pandher’s home in December 2006, the crimes were discovered. The majority of the victims were young women and children who had vanished from the area. The country was stunned by the heinousness of the murders and the ensuing inquiry.

The following are some essential details about the Nithari case:

  1. Human Remains Found: In December 2006, while searching for his daughter, the father of a missing girl came across human remains close to Pandher’s home. A more thorough search was conducted after this finding, which turned up several human remains within and outside the home.
  2. Victims: Most of the victims were missing children and young ladies from the area. There are differing figures regarding the precise number of victims, ranging from 16 to over 30. Many times, the victims came from low-income families.
  3. Confession of Surinder Koli: Moninder Singh Pandher’s domestic helper admitted to sexually abusing, killing, and dismembering her victims. He described the horrifying deeds he did that resulted in his incarceration and the arrest of Pandher.
  4. Forensic Evidence: DNA testing and other forensic investigations were essential in establishing a connection between the discovered remains and the missing people. The forensic evidence was crucial in proving the accused’s guilt and linking them to the horrible murders.
  5. Public Outcry: The case provoked protests and a great deal of public outrage, drawing attention to the problems associated with missing children and the need for better investigative and law enforcement practices.
  6. custody and Court Cases: In relation to the Nithari murders, Moninder Singh Pandher and Surinder Koli were both placed under custody. 2009 saw the start of the trial process. Both were found guilty and given the death penalty in 2009. But thereafter, Pandher was spared in many cases by the Allahabad High Court, which reduced his sentence to life in jail. The death penalty for Koli was upheld.
  7. Law enforcement Criticism: The case highlighted the oversights and delays in the first police inquiry. The way situations involving missing persons were handled was criticised, and systemic changes in law enforcement were deemed necessary.
  8. Media Coverage: Because of the horrible nature of the crimes and the ensuing court proceedings, the Nithari case attracted a lot of national and worldwide media attention.

What were the opinions of the High Court?

  • It is nothing short of a betrayal of public trust by responsible agencies that investigations into the potential involvement of organ trade have failed to pursue, despite specific recommendations made by the High-Level Committee, which was established by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India, in the Nithari killings.
  • The court declared that during the investigation, blatant violations of the fundamental standards for gathering evidence had occurred.
  • The inquiry seems to have taken the simple route of demonising a lowly domestic staff to implicate him, rather than carefully investigating more serious possibilities of potential connection with organised organ trading, according to the court’s assessment.
  • Investigational lapses of this magnitude may lead to a variety of inferences, such as cooperation, among other things.

What were the Opinions of the Court on Organ Trading?

  • The investigating agency has not given attention to the possibility that organ trafficking is the driving force behind these crimes, the court noted.
  • The evidence also points to one of the accused’s neighbours as a potential suspect in an organ trafficking case (kidney transplant).
  • The Ministry of Women and Child Development’s High Leval Committee report stated that the police have not looked into the possibilities of organ trafficking.
  • As the Committee was informed by the medical superintendent performing the postmortem, “it was intriguing to observe that the middle part of all bodies (torsos) was missing.”
    • Such missing torsos, in his opinion, raise the possibility of improper use of bodies for organ sales, etc.
    • In his opinion, the surgical precision with which the bodies were cut also pointed to this fact.

What is Indian Law on Organ Trading?

  • The illicit exchange of organs for transplantation is referred to as organ trafficking or trading.
  • It is both a grave crime and a human rights infringement.
  • Many nations, including India, have enacted stringent laws and regulations governing organ transplantation to curb organ trafficking.
  • Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994 (THOA) was passed by India and subsequently updated in 2011 to control organ transplantation and donation within the nation.
  • Commercial organ trade is illegal, and organ transplantation is only permitted through channels that are approved by law.

What is the position of third-degree torture in Indian law?

  • The Supreme Court has ruled that the right to life encompasses the right to live with human dignity. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution of 1950 provides both the right to life and personal liberty.
  • In order to punish public servants who abuse others, the Prevention of Abuse Bill, 2010 was presented to the Indian Parliament.
    • India joined the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 1997; the bill sought to bring India into compliance. However, India has not yet ratified the convention.
  • Section 24 of the Indian Evidence Act, of 1872 also states that – A confession made by an accused person is irrelevant in a criminal proceeding if the making of the confession appears to the Court to have been caused by any inducement, threat or promise having reference to the charge against the accused person, proceeding from a person in authority and sufficient, in the opinion of the Court, to give the accused person grounds which would appear to him reasonable for supposing

What are the Major Cases on Third-Degree Torture?

  • Mst. Bhagan v. State of Pepsu (1955):
    • The court in this case held that “It appears to be well known that the police are in the habit of extorting confessions by illegal and improper means”.
    • Confessions obtained in this manner must be excluded from evidence as it is not safe to receive a statement made by an accused person under any influence of fear or favor.
  • Arup Bhuyan v. State of Assam (2011):
    • The SC in this case held that “Confession is a very weak kind of evidence. As is well known, the widespread and rampant practice in the police in India is to use third-degree methods for extracting confessions from the alleged accused”.

The Nithari case highlighted the importance of addressing missing persons and vulnerable populations, as well as reforming the criminal justice system to ensure timely and effective investigations and prosecutions.

Some of the key legal aspects include:

  1. Indian Penal Code (IPC): Various sections of the IPC were invoked in the Nithari Hatyakand case, including sections related to murder, abduction, rape, and destruction of evidence. The charges ranged from Section 302 (murder) to Section 201 (causing the disappearance of evidence of an offence) and others.
  2. Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC): The CrPC outlines the procedure for the investigation and trial of criminal cases in India. It provides guidelines for the arrest, detention, and questioning of suspects, as well as the conduct of trials.
  3. Evidence Act: The Indian Evidence Act establishes the rules regarding the admissibility of evidence in court. Proper adherence to these rules is crucial for ensuring a fair trial. The Act includes provisions related to oral and documentary evidence, confessions, and the examination of witnesses.
  4. Forensic Science: Given the nature of the crimes, forensic evidence played a crucial role in the Nithari Hatyakand case. DNA testing, post-mortem reports, and other forensic evidence were presented in court to establish the guilt of the accused.
  5. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act: During the investigation, it was revealed that some of the victims were minors. The Juvenile Justice Act was likely applied if any accused individuals were found to be juveniles at the time of the crimes.
  6. Human Rights Protections: The case also raised concerns about human rights violations. Legal protections for the accused and the victims were considered, and any violations of human rights were addressed within the legal framework.

It’s crucial to remember that the Nithari Hatyakand case’s judicial proceedings and conclusions were unique to its facts and circumstances. The accused were held responsible for their conduct based on the evidence that was shown during the trial, and the legal measures were carried out in compliance with the current Indian legislation. However, because the guilt was not shown beyond a reasonable doubt, the Allahabad High Court cleared both of the appellants in the Nithari killings in 2023. In this instance, the appellants contended that the confessions had been obtained using improper means.

Adv. Khanak Sharma

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