Ex-Navy man to face fresh trial in 24-year-old murder case

K D S Bedi's plea that it would be a miscarriage of justice if he was forced to stand 'de nova trial' after 24 years failed to convince the vacation bench of Justices B Sudershan Reddy and Aftab Alam which in a terse order said there was no merit in the petition.

This is one of the rarest cases in the country's legal history that somebody would be subjected to a fresh trial for an offence committed quarter a century ago.

The impact of a fresh trial is that each of the witnesses will have to be examined and cross examined afresh, arguments heard, plea recorded and the defence would lead its evidence. In other words, the trial would start from the scratch.

This obviously puts an unbearable strain on the accused, who after a lapse of a quarter century, would be required to establish his innocence.

In this instant case, Bedi, who was commissioned in the India Navy as "Midshipman", was charged with gunning down two of his colleagues -- Om Prakash Dube, Midshipman and Hanuman Singh, Loading Seaman and Sentry on board INS-Ranjit, which was alongside Bombay Harbour after a row.

According to the prosecution, Bedi committed the offence by firing a 9 mm. carbine at the duo resulting in their death.

On January 15, 1988 the Additional Sessions Judge, Mumbai, convicted Bedi for murder and sentenced him to life imprisonment.

But after more than two decades, the Bombay High Court on May 7, 2009 quashed the case against Bedi on the ground that mandatory provisions prescribed under [Rules 3 to 9] of the Criminal Courts and Court Martial (Adjustment of Jurisdiction) Rules, 1978 were not observed by the magistrate before proceeding with the trial.

Under the said rule it was incumbent on the magistrate to first give the option to the Naval authorities to decide whether court martial proceedings should be conducted against Bedi as he was a military personnel. Only if the Naval authorities decide not to conduct court martial proceedings, can the regular criminal trial be conducted against the accused.

However, in this case the sessions court proceeded to conduct the trial without going through the procedure following which the Bombay High Court quashed the conviction and directed a fresh trial either by the Naval authorities or the regular criminal court after following the requisite procedure. Bedi, in his appeal before the apex court, had pleaded that he cannot be made to suffer for the lapse committed by a magistrate 24 years ago.

According to counsel Maheen Pradhan, at the time of the alleged offence, the accused was only 23 years old and during the pendency of the trial has not only lost his job but also had to establish himself once again in life.

The petition submitted that after the alleged killing, Bedi had married and has 2 children ,a son and a daughter aged 17 and 15 respectively and is looking after his 82-year-old father who is completely blind and bedridden, and a mother aged 77 years, who is a chronic heart patient, as he is their only son.

Further it is said that the accused has himself developed serious ailments like diabetes, acute hypertension and psychiatric problems during the last 24 years.

Moreover, he claimed that under the Navy Act, 1957 no trial can be held against an accused if the same had not commenced within three years of the alleged offence.

But the arguments failed to convince the apex court which dismissed his plea, which means Bedi, presently on bail, has to now stand a fresh trial.

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