New Delhi : Calling it a "serious issue" for the criminal justice system, a rattled Delhi High Court Thursday ordered a probe into a TV sting that alleged a collusion between the prosecution and defence in the 1999 BMW hit-and-run case and prompted a veteran criminal lawyer to quit.
A day after NDTV news channel broadcast its sensational footage late Wednesday night, two parallel courts – the Delhi High Court and a subordinate sessions court trying the case – swung into action and ordered the TV channel to hand over all the relevant visuals and audiotapes. The trial court has given the channel until Friday afternoon to hand over the tapes.
"The contents of the video recently done by the NDTV is a serious issue concerning the administration of the criminal justice system," declared Delhi High Court Chief Justice M.K.Sarma.
"In the fitness of things and interest of justice, facts should be brought out," he added.
Alongside, Additional Sessions Judge Vinod Kumar ordered a probe after veteran criminal lawyer I.U. Khan alleged that the sting operation was "mischievous" and the videotapes were "fabricated and doctored."
Earlier Thursday, Khan – smarting under the allegations – quit as public prosecutor in the BMW case. The Delhi government appointed advocate Rajeev Mohan to take his place.
The NDTV footage showed the prosecution and defence attorneys allegedly colluding in trying to bribe the sole witness to change his testimony and save prime accused Sanjeev Nanda, who is alleged to have killed six people on a Delhi pavement while driving a BMW car in a drunken state.
In the eye of a storm after the sting operation was telecast, a haggard-looking Khan, known as a sharp criminal lawyer, tried hard to deny the aspersions cast on him.
Khan told the court that he had never directed witness Sunil Kulkarni to meet defence counsel R.K. Anand, a former Rajya Sabha member from Jharkhand.
Referring to his statement in the NDTV footage asking Kulkarni if he had met "Bade Saheb", Khan told the court that it was well known in legal circles that Anand was known as the "boss" and not as "Bade Saheb".
Khan told the court that the visual footage clearly showed even Kulkarni addressing Anand as "Boss" while haggling on how much money he should charge for changing his deposition in favour of Sanjeev Nanda.
Significantly, Khan submitted to Judge Kumar a statement by Kulkarni, recorded in Kumar's courtroom during deposition, in which the witness refers to senior police officers as "Bade Saheb".
Imputing a motive of revenge on NDTV, Khan told the court that he was being "victimised" for not acceding to NDTV reporter Poonam Aggarwal's request to give her the case diary and some other prosecution documents and help her in her reporting.
He told the court that he refused to part with the prosecution documents, and that the reporter warned him that he should be prepared to face the consequences.
This alleged warning by the reporter had prompted him to send a legal notice to NDTV April 19, to which the channel replied April 26 expressing regret over the episode, said Khan.
He added that he had sent copies of the legal notice to the police and the Press Council of India, turning it into a complaint against the channel.
"She had also been hauled up repeatedly by the court of another additional sessions judge, Ravinder Kaur, for misreporting the court proceedings," Khan told the court.
The prosecution had dropped Kulkarni as an "unreliable witness" some years ago, suspecting that he had been won over by the accused, but Kulkarni maintained throughout that he was under immense pressure from police to turn hostile.
On March 19 this year, judge Kumar, using his powers to recall a witness, summoned Kulkarni to depose in the case. This was challenged by Sanjeev Nanda in the high court.
Kulkarni subsequently approached NDTV alleging that he was under pressure from both prosecution and defence counsel to turn hostile and offered to conduct a sting operation for the news channel in order to prove that an unholy nexus existed between the prosecution and defence in high-profile cases involving the rich and mighty.
Sanjeev Nanda, grandson of former navy chief Admiral S.M. Nanda, allegedly mowed down six people sleeping on Delhi's Lodhi Road pavement in the early hours of Jan 10, 1999, while driving the BMW car.