New Delhi: The Supreme Court Wednesday sought response from the Kerala government on a petition filed by 16 of the 24 convicts challenging their conviction and varying quantum of sentence in the Suryanelli gang-rape case.
A bench comprising Justices SJ Mukhopadhaya and PC Pant issued notice to the state government on the appeals against the Kerala High Court's April 4 judgement upholding the verdict of the trial court.
The High Court had confirmed the life sentence of one convict and varying sentences awarded by the trial court at Kottayam, to other 23. Dharmarajan, who was awarded life term, has not yet approached the apex court.
There were 36 people who faced trial in the 18-year-old case, of which five died during the trial. Seven were acquitted.
The case relates to a victim, who was a minor at the time and was taken to various places in Kerala and Tamil Nadu by the convicts, travelling about 3000 km during a 40-day ordeal when she was raped by over 40 persons, before being released on February 26, 1996.
The court awarded sentences varying from five to 13 years and imposed fines on the 23 convicts.
Convicts Raju, a bus conductor in Idukki, and Usha were awarded 13 years rigorous jail term for procuring the minor girl and giving her to the other convicts.
The High Court had rejected the contentions of convicts touching on the character of the victim. Their contention that the girl did not make any attempt to escape from their custody was also turned down.
The High Court had in 2005 acquitted all the 35 persons tried in the case and reduced the life sentence awarded to Dharmarajan, who was tried separately, to five years imprisonment on appeals filed by them.
This was challenged by the state government and the victim in the Supreme Court, which had directed the High Court to constitute a new bench to hear the appeals afresh.
The High Court bench was constituted in February 2013.
Dharmarajan, who was absconding, was arrested from Sagar in Karnataka on February 15, 2013 after he appeared on a television channel.
The case relates to the abduction and sexual exploitation of the minor school girl from Suryanelli in Kerala's high range Idukki district in 1996.
The prosecution case was that the girl, who was studying in school, was enticed, abducted and sexually exploited by bus conductor Raju on January 16, 1996.
The girl was later handed over to two others Usha and Dharmarajan, who is a lawyer.