Tarun Tejpal charged with rape by Goa trial court

This is also the first case in Goa where a person has been booked on rape charges, where the accused is a person in position of trust and held official authority over the victim.

Tarun Tejpal outside at Goa High Court

Tarun Tejpal, founder and former editor of Tehelka magazine, was formally charged with rape and wrongful confinement by a trial court on Thursday. Tejpal is accused of sexually assaulting a female colleague inside the elevator of Hotel Grand Hyatt in Goa on the night of November 7, 2013.

The trial court booked Tejpal on all the rape charges — 376 (rape), 354-A (sexual harassment and punishment for sexual harassment), 376(2) (k) (rape of a woman by a person being in position of control or dominance over the woman), 376 (2) (f) (person in position of trust or authority over women committing rape of such women) and Section 354-B (disrobing a woman), along with other charges under Sections 341 and 342 (punishment for wrongful restraint).

Advocate Rajeev Gomes, representing Tejpal, tried to get the trial court to stay the charges till the High Court hears their appeal. Tejpal had approached the High Court on September 26, saying that the lower court had abdicated its jurisdiction, and the case was not fit for trial. The High Court is set to hear his appeal on November 1.

Additional District Sessions Judge in Mapusa, Vijaya Pol, who has been hearing the case in the trial court, said she could not hold the framing of charges any longer due to the Supreme Court’s directives, said public prosecutor Francisco Tavora.

“Charges were formally explained to Mr Tejpal and the first offences — 376, 341, 342, 354-A, 354-B, 376 (2) (f) and (k), rape committed by a person in authority and in trust — were explained. He has pleaded not guilty to all of that. It is a procedure in the trial. The court has to explain the charges to him,” said Tavora.

In May 2014, the Supreme Court had directed that the trial should be conducted within eight months of filing the chargesheet. Tejpal was chargesheeted on February 17, 2014 by the Goa Crime Branch.

The prosecution told the High Court on September 26 that “three years have been lost” just in arguments in the pre-trial stage. Tejpal has approached the High Court to hear him one last time on a “matter of law”, as he appealed that the charges cannot be framed.

“The court has now asked for the final status report of the High Court proceedings to be submitted on November 21, after which the court will decide on the trial dates,” said Tavora.

Gomes initially asked for a stay in framing charges, and a date in December for submitting the status report of the High Court. The trial court said the matter did not merit any further delay, and the High Court had not ordered a stay in framing of charges.

Speaking to mediapersons outside court, Gomes said: “We are disappointed. We are hopeful that the High Court will discharge the matter. In our opinion, this is not a fit case for trial.”

The prosecution said “these are just delay tactics”, adding that they would not be surprised if Tejpal approached the Supreme Court as that is the last remedy available. Asked if he was satisfied with the manner in which the case is proceeding, Tavora replied: “Thoroughly. The last few hearings are testimony to that. It’s dragging a little, but we are positive.”

The trial will see a total of 150 witnesses and material evidence against Tejpal. Tejpal, who is usually accompanied by his family, had only his brother at the court on Thursday.

The mood of both the sides played outside the trial court, with the public prosecutor saying that the “trial has to happen, there is no other way”, and the defence insisting that “the whole matter is not rape, but false accusation of rape”.

Speaking on the delay, the defence and prosecution insisted that the clone copies of the phone messages exchanged between the accused and witness, and sharing of material evidence of CCTV footage was the cause.

The prosecution maintained that “the clone copies didn’t give any new detail and matched with details in the chargesheet”.

But the defence said: “We needed them as they are evidence. They didn’t even know which laboratory to approach and we informed them. It is not in our favour to delay, as the material evidence like CCTV footage clearly contradicts the statement of the victim.”

In the last few hearings, the defence maintained that the CCTV footage was in the favour of the accused, as the victim “doesn’t look distressed”.

“They can challenge everything during trial. If they are confident, they should allow the trial to begin. We have material evidence, statement of fact, and witness details. They can wait to hear it all,” said Tavora.

Investigating Officer Sunita Sawant said she was satisfied with the development, and added that the investigation would stand the test of trial.

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