The Centre on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that it would submit a status report on the progress of the investigations into the sensational twin murder of teenager Aarushi and her domestic help Hemraj.
The assurance was given by Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam after a bench of Justices Altamas Kabir and Cyriac Joseph inquired about the progress of the case, during the hearing of a PIL, seeking a slew of directions on the issue. "What has happened to the case? What is the progress," the bench said during the hearing.
Interestingly, neither Surat Singh, an advocate who filed the PIL, nor the counsel for Aarushi's father Rajesh Talwar, who had moved an impleadment (hearing) application, could answer the court's query on the issue. It was then that the Solicitor General, who is appearing for the Central Bureau of Investiagtion, assured the bench that the government would file a status report on the issue.
The apex court said its order on July 22, 2008, directing the media to exercise caution in reporting or telecasting matters related to the case, would continue until further orders.
Surat Singh, in his PIL, has sought a series of directions to protect the reputation of the family, which he alleges has been much maligned by the media and the police. He has also sought action against the police for keeping Dr Talwar in custody for 50 days before declaring him innocent.
The bench permitted Talwar and the News Broadcasters Association to be impleaded (heard) in the matter before passing any direction. It also asked the Centre to file its reply on the association's argument that it had its own self-regulatory mechanism in place in reporting/telecasting such incidents.
The apex court, however, clarified that it was not merely examining the specific issue relating to the media coverage of Aarushi murder case but rather a larger dimension of the freedom of press vis-a-vis the fundamental right and right to privacy of a citizen.
Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam, in his brief intervention, said the Centre was also keen on striking a 'delicate balance' between the functional independence of the media and the right to privacy and fundamental rights of a citizen.
Besides the Union Home Ministry, Ministry of Law and Justice, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, Central Bureau of Investigation, and the Uttar Pradesh police, the PIL has listed the Press Council of India, Aaj Tak, NDTV, Times of India, Hindustan Times and CNN-IBN as respondents before the court.
The petition alleged that the media had maligned the 'sacred' father-daughter relations by 'irresponsibly' reporting the incident. Singh also sought a direction for setting up a five- judge "criminal justice system reforms committee" to inquire as to "why an innocent person was allowed to rot in police custody for 50 days because of the bungling and mishandling" by the investigation agencies.
Singh wanted the proposed committee to fix responsibility on the officers responsible for 'mishandling the case and maligning' the reputation of the Talwars and their family friend Durranis. The petition alleged that the media and the investigating agency had indulged in character assassination of the dead girl.
Singh also wanted a direction to the director generals of police of all states to ensure that no information was leaked to the media in a criminal case pending investigation and the police should not rush to the media till the case is completely over.
The petition sought directions to all district judges in the country to ensure that fundamental rights of the citizens were given more primacy than the provisions provided under the CrPC. Further, it was urged that all police officers should be subjected to three months of re-orientation programme for sensitisation on the citizen's fundamental rights.