NEW DELHI, May 9 (PTI): Setting the stage for trial, a court here on Tuesday framed charges of murder and disappearance of evidence against Aaftab Amin Poonawala, accused of strangling his live-in partner Shraddha Walkar to death and chopping her body into pieces.
Additional Sessions Judge Manisha Khurana Kakkar said the prosecution had placed on record “sufficient material” and prima facie a case was made out against the accused.
The court, however, said whether Poonawala could be convicted for both offences was a matter of trial and could not be decided at the present stage.
“… Sufficient material has been placed on record by the prosecution which warrants trial of the accused for both the offences. From the aforesaid material placed on record by the prosecution, a prima facie case for the offences under sections 302 (murder) and 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence) of the Indian Penal Code is made out against the accused,” the judge said.
“Accordingly, charges for the offences under sections 302 and 201 of the IPC are framed against the accused. The charge is read over and explained to the accused in the presence of his counsel and the accused has submitted that he has understood the charge and thereafter, the accused has stated he does not plead guilty and he has claimed trial,” the judge added.
ASJ Kakkar noted the “circumstantial and corroborative evidence” relied upon by the prosecution, including the recovery of bones, a bunch of hair, and the jaw of the deceased which Poonawala had allegedly disposed of to conceal the murder along with the last seen evidence and digital trails.
Other evidence included blood stains in the fridge and kitchen shelves, DNA profiling report, voice recording on Dr Practo app, previous complaint given by the deceased in Mumbai, postmortem report, call detail records and statements of several witnesses, the judge noted.
“Thus, in light of the aforesaid material placed on record, the contention raised by the counsel for the accused that no substantive material has been placed on record by the prosecution to frame charges… is without any merits,” the judge said.
“The stage of leading evidence cannot be trumped and the matter cannot be prejudged. In fact, if there is sufficient material placed on record by the prosecution for both the offences, there seems to be no bar in framing charges for both the offences…,” the judge said.
Referring to the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), the judge said although necessary particulars were to be provided at the time of framing of charges but if the offence was of murder, then the charge need not state the manner in which the murder was committed and non-providing of the said particulars or manner would not render the charge defective.
“Consequently, since the case of the prosecution in the present matter is primarily based upon circumstantial evidence and not on any ocular account of a witness or any such direct evidence, there is no requirement of stating the manner of commission of the alleged offence under section 302…,” the ASJ said.
The judge also said at the time of framing of charges, only a prima facie view has to be formed, in order to weigh whether there is sufficient material available on record to proceed against the accused.
The matter has been posted for further proceedings on June 1.
Meanwhile, the court adjourned till May 22 the hearing on an application by the victim’s father Vikas Walkar urging the judge that his daughter’s remains be handed over to the family for the last rites as required by tradition and culture.
Delhi Police had also placed on record other evidence, such as the recovery of a knife, scissors and hammer (used allegedly for dismembering the body), narco analysis test, recovery of a ring of the deceased from one of the acquaintances or friend of the accused and chats between the friend of the deceased and the accused (to prove that Shraddha was not alive after May 18).
Special Public Prosecutor Amit Prasad told the court on March 20 while completing the arguments on the charges that there is substantive circumstantial as well as corroborative evidence linked with direct evidence against the accused.
During further arguments on April 15, Poonawala’s advocate said that at the time of the framing of charges, the manner of commission of the offence must be stated. He also argued that the accused cannot be sentenced for both offences and that the prosecution had not brought on record any substantive evidence.
Earlier on February 21, a magisterial court after taking cognisance of the charge sheet, had committed the case to sessions court. The Delhi Police filed the 6,629-page charge sheet in the case on January 24.
Poonawala allegedly strangled Walkar on May 18 last year, sawed her body into pieces and kept them in a fridge for almost three weeks at his residence in south Delhi’s Mehrauli.
He later threw the pieces at different places in the national capital to avoid getting caught.