The Supreme Court on Monday awarded 25-year jail term each to Vikas Yadav and his cousin Vishal Yadav for their role in the kidnapping and killing of Nitish Katara in 2002.
While upholding the 2014 Delhi High Court's sentence of 25 years imposed on Vikas Yadav and two others, the bench of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice C Nagappan said, "We have powers to impose such special sentences".
The apex court ruled thus in a verdict while examining the question whether courts could impose special sentences which are not provided under the statute.
The apex court also handed down a 20-year jail sentence to their co-convict Sukhdev Pehalwan in the case. The bench modified the Delhi high court verdict that had said that seperate jail terms of 25-years and 5-years for the offences of murder and destruction of evidence would run consecutively against Vikas and Vishal.
In what was a shocking case of honour killing at the time, the duo had murdered Nitish on 17 February 2002 as they were opposed to his friendship with their sister and UP strongman DP Yadav's daughter Bharti Yadav.
The court said both the jail terms would run concurrently that would effectively lead to the award of 25 years of imprisonment to the Yadavs.
Simultaneously, Pehalwan, who was granted 25-year jail term in the case by the high court, will now have to face 20-year imprisonment in the matter. The order came on the appeals filed by Vikas and Vishal against the Delhi high court order which had enhanced the life term to 25 years in jail without remission and an additional five years for destruction of evidence in the case, terming
Katara's murder as "honour killing".
The Yadavs' acquaintance Sukhdev Yadav alias Pehelwan was then awarded an enhanced life sentence of 25 years without remission by the high court which had held that the crime fell in "rarest of rare category", but saved them from the gallows saying possibility of their reformation and rehabilitation was not "unforseeably foreclosed".
How the case unfolded
On the intervening night of 16-17 February, 2002, Vikas Yadav, the son of the tainted leader DP Yadav abducted Nitish from a wedding party of a friend in Ghaziabad who was known to Bharti, DP Yadav's daughter as well. Katara was eventually battered to death with a hammer and his charred body was found near the Hapur crossing in a village Khurja in Bulandshahar, Uttar Pradesh, according to The Indian Express. Meanwhile, Bharti Yadav left for the United Kingdom on the same day when Nitish's body was discovered.
The Yadav family, clearly opposed the friendship of the two, had reportedly issued death threats to Nitish earlier too, but he and Bharti continued their friendship. According to a report in The Week, the key witness in the case Ajay Katara, a passer by, was allegedly attacked shortly before a case hearing. Ajay, according to The Telegraph, alleged that DP Yadav was trying to poison him to stop him from recording his statement. "After he [Vikas Yadav] threatened to kill me I became even more determined to tell the truth. If I am going to die, I might as well tell the truth," The Week quotes Ajay as saying.
According to another report in DNA, three UP police constables deputed for the security of Ajay also complained that some senior police officials were trying to bribe them for "not defending" him. The trial went on for almost six years before a trial court convicted Vikas and Vishal in 2008.
Recording the statement of another crucial witness in the case Bharti Yadav — who surprisingly left India the day Katara's body was found — proved to be another roadblock in the case as it took several summons, warnings and in the end several non-bailable warrants against her to finally get her to come back to the country and record her statement, according to the Hindustan Times.
Nitish Katara's mother Neelam Katara, had initially sought death penalty for her son's murder but the Supreme Court had rejected the plea stating that while it was a murder and could even be pre-meditated, it certainly was not heinous or a matter of honour killing, according to IANS. However, in Monday's verdict the court has observed that the case was indeed of honour killing.
The Supreme Court in August 2015 upheld the Delhi High Court's conviction of Vikas Yadav, Vishal Yadav and Sukhdev Pahalwan, and said it would later examine the question of quantum of sentence. Earlier, the high court had held that the murder of Katara, who was in love with Vikas's sister, was an "honour killing" which was done in a "very carefully planned and premeditated" manner with "extreme vengeance". It had also enhanced the fines imposed on Vikas and Vishal by slapping an amount of Rs 54 lakh each on them.
Vikas (39), Vishal (37) and Sukhdev (40) were serving life term awarded by the lower court in May 2008 for abducting and killing Katara.
The high court had on 2 April, 2014, upheld the verdict of the lower court in the case by describing the offence as "honour killing" stemming from a "deeply-entrenched belief" in caste system.
Katara was abducted and killed by Vikas, Vishal and Sukhdev as they did not approve of the victim's affair with Bharti because they belonged to different castes, the lower court had said.
With inputs from agencies