Khattar government under fire over 'shielding' son of state BJP chief
The police handling of the incident of stalking and alleged attempt to kidnap the daughter of a bureaucrat snowballed into a major controversy with the opposition on Monday accusing the BJP government in Haryana of shielding the state unit chief and his son, an accused, while the police said it has an open mind and could add further charges in the case.
The government headed by Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar continued to draw flak for the pressure that was allegedly brought on the Chandigarh Police to dilute the case against Vikas Barala, son of Subhash Barala, and his friend Ashish Kumar, who allegedly stalked and intimidated a 29-year-old woman last week.
Under criticism from various quarters over its flip-flop in the incident involving the daughter of a senior Haryana IAS officer, Chandigarh Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Eish Singhal said: "We are investigating the case with an open mind. If any section has to be added at a later stage, we will do it."
Singhal tried to evade direct questions on the role of the police in trying to shield the main accused, Vikas Barala and his friend Ashish Kumar.
However, he did not answer questions on reports that video footage of seven of the nine CCTVs had gone missing.
"We have reconstructed the scene of the crime. We are trying to get the CCTV footage. We will get the technical analysis of this done. We have been investigating it only for three days," he said.
"We are not doing anything under pressure. We are a professional investigating agency and we are doing our job," Singhal said.
He accused the media of conducting a "media trial" in the matter.
Defending the police action in this matter, Singhal said that the police officials immediately booked the accused and arrested them though they were later released on bail.
Chandigarh Police on Saturday booked and arrested Vikas Barala and his friend, both of whom were drunk, on charges of stalking the young woman after chasing her car in their SUV. The victim alleged that the youth tried to intimidate her and abduct her.
Earlier, police said there was no CCTV footage of the incident.
Deputy Superintendent of Police Satish Kumar told the media that they tried to get CCTV footage from nine CCTV cameras along the route, from Sector 7 to Housing Board traffic light point, but all were found to be "non-functional".
The route along which the two accused stalked Varnika Kundu, daughter of Haryana Additional Chief Secretary V.S. Kundu, passes through some prominent and busy parts of Chandigarh including the Sector 26 Police Lines.
"It is strange that the CCTV cameras of such high-profile areas were not working. This seems to be a cover-up," a junior police officer told IANS.
The victim and her family have said they will fight the case to its "logical conclusion".
The Congress on Monday accused the Union Home Ministry of trying to protect the son of Haryana BJP President Subhash Barala.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the Chandigarh Police, which comes under the Home Ministry, diluted the charges and booked Vikas Barala under bailable offences.
Surjewala said Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party chief Amit Shah should say why the BJP leader's son was being protected and sought the Haryana BJP President's resignation.
"He (Vikas) followed the woman for seven kilometres, tried to stop the car. They even tried to open the door and enter the car. Is it not a case of attempted kidnapping and abduction? Is it not a case of molestation and outraging the modesty of a woman? If it is so, why were these charges not pressed against the accused?" asked Surjewala.
"The Home Ministry and the police is conspiring to hush up the entire matter to protect the Haryana BJP president and his son," he added.
He said the police initially said it was a case of abduction and outraging the modesty of a woman, both of which are non-bailable offences. However, the police booked the FIR under different sections which were bailable offences.
"The police changed its statement. They said we have only enforced the offence of stalking, not even that of outraging the modesty. They said it was forceful restraint but omitted abduction... She said there was an attempt to abduct her, why was it not written in FIR? This is dereliction of duty."
"Does it not prove that between 2.30 p.m. and 5 p.m., the message from the Home Ministry and the Centre reached the Chandigarh Police? Why are they going out of the way to hush up the matter instead of punishing the guilty?"
He accused Modi and Amit Shah of trying to save the BJP leader's son.
"Five CCTV footages from five different cameras out of seven have gone missing. How is it that suddenly all those CCTV cameras have stopped functioning and have gone missing," asked Surjewala.
Accusing the BJP of adopting double standards, he said a few years ago a Haryana Congress leader was made to resign after an incident involving his son.
"When a similar incident had happened involving the son of a senior minister in the Haryana government a few years ago the BJP had demanded the minister's resignation holding him accountable."
Chandigarh's Deputy Superintendent of Police Satish Kumar said Barala and a friend were booked under Section 354D (stalking a woman) of the Indian Penal Code. Section 341 (wrongful restraint) was later added in the FIR.