Murder accused former Maoist commander gets clean chit from Supreme CourtThe decision is fallacious, says former judge.
Revoking the verdicts of lower courts, the Supreme Court has given a clean chit to Govinda Bahadur Batala, a brigade commander of then Maoist People’s Liberation Army who allegedly masterminded the murder of Ram Hari Shrestha, a restaurateur in Koteshwor, over a decade ago.
Shrestha was abducted from Kathmandu on April 27, 2008 and his body was found on the bank of Trishuli River in Chitwan district a month later on May 25. The Maoists had rented a house belonging to Shrestha in Koteshwor.
In his police statement, Batala confessed to have taken Shrestha, along with Keshav Adhikari and Gangaram Thapa to Chitwan, for an investigation into their alleged involvement in the robbery of Rs 1.7 million and a pistol.
Shrestha’s whereabouts were unknown until May 15, 2008 when Kali Bahadur Kham, commander of the Maoist combatants’ Shaktikhor camp who was said to have lost the cash and the weapon, announced that he had died in Jutepani, Chitwan, one of the cantonments of the Maoist combatants.
A report by The Asia Foundation says Batala was handed over to the Chitwan Police by the Maoists after the case was disclosed. In his police statement, Batala said Shrestha, Adhikari and Thapa were locked in the same room in the cantonment for interrogation. He said Shrestha was the first to confess the robbery, to which Adhikari and Thapa were not happy so they thrashed him.
In the statement, Batala said Shrestha had died at Dhakapani in Chitwan when he was being brought to Kathmandu for treatment as his health condition deteriorated due to the beating. While he got off the vehicle that was ferrying Shrestha, Adhikari and Thapa threw the body in the river at Bhaludhunga. Adhikari and Thapa are absconding.
On May 31, 2011, a single bench of Chitwan District Court judge Bhojraj Pokharel ordered three months of imprisonment to Batala arguing even though he wasn’t directly involved in the killing, he was present at the scene. The district attorney, however, had demanded life imprisonment for Batala claiming that he was a mastermind of the killing.
The Hetauda Appellate Court upheld the decision on January 19, 2014. Batala challenged the decision in the Supreme Court. The division bench of Justices Tej Bahadur KC and Tanka Bahadur Moktan on March 1 issued a verdict, giving clean chit to Batala arguing that he had no involvement in the entire crime.
The full text of the verdict was released on Thursday. KC and Moktan, in their verdict, say the decisions of Chitwan District and Hetauda Appellate courts were wrong. A team of five advocates including former attorney generals Mukti Pradhan and Raman Shrestha had defended Batala at the Supreme Court.
KC, who was one of the judges in Batala’s case, together with Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana, had given a verdict to reduce Ranjan Koirala’s sentence two weeks ago.
Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court commuted the prison sentence handed to Koirala, a former deputy inspector general of the Armed Police Force, convicted of murdering his wife.
Though Batala agrees he took Shrestha along with two others, the court didn’t find him guilty. “The top court’s ruling is fallacious. Every culprit should get the punishment to the extent of his/her involvement in the crime,” Gauri Bahadur Karki, former chairperson of the Special Court, told the Post. He says Shrestha wouldn’t have lost his life had Batala not taken him to Chitwan.
Karki says the judiciary’s image is eroding day by day due to such verdicts. “The judiciary has become anarchic as it has been politicised,” he said.