The Bombay High Court on Friday set aside the death penalty handed down by a session's court to Ramchandra Karanjule, the former director of an orphanage in Navi Mumbai, for murdering an inmate and gang-raping five mentally challenged girls inside the premises of the orphanage.
A division bench of justices RV More and Anuja Prabhudessai, while acquitting him of the charge of murder, commuted the sentence of death to a sentence of 10 years' imprisonment for the charge of gang-rape. Karanjule, who was produced in court escorted by the police, hugged his family members, who were present inside the court room, after the pronouncement of the sentence. The bench will be releasing a detailed copy of the judgment on Wednesday.
Karanjule, a former railway employee, had founded the Kalyani Mahila and Balak Seva Sanstha, which was located at Kalamboli.
The session's court had in 2013 acquitted four and convicted six of the 10 accused in the case. Of them, two were sentenced to life imprisonment. The convicted accused included Nanabhau Karanjule, Khandu Kasbe (both acquaintances of Ramchandra Karanjule), Sonali Badade (orphanage superintendent) and Parvati Mavale (its caretaker).
The high court, while reducing the life sentence imposed on Kasbe, sentenced him to 10 years' imprisonment on gang-rape charges, while Prakash Khadke, sentenced to life imprisonment, was acquitted of all charges. Apart from them, the court convicted Nana Karanjule, a freelance journalist, under charges of molestation and sentenced him to two years' imprisonment.
The court also sentenced Badade to one year in jail along with a fine of Rs2,000, acquitting her of the serious charge of attempt to murder but convicting her on the lesser charge of causing hurt. Mavale was convicted on the charge of causing hurt under section 324 of the IPC and sentenced to one year in jail with a Rs2,000 fine.
Karanjule, who has been in prison since his arrest in 2011, has undergone a substantial period of the 10-year sentence and could be released from prison after serving a few more years. The incidents of the sexual and physical abuse of the girls, aged 14 to 18 years, came to light during an inspection of 25 homes for differently-abled children under the instructions of the Bombay High Court.
According to defence lawyers Niranjan Mundargi and Mahesh Vaswani, the lower court's order was perverse and without an application of the mind.
The lower court, while sending Karanjule to the gallows, had observed: "The only objective behind running the orphanage was to satisfy lust and earn money. Ramchandra Karanjule not only exploited the girls for years but also allowed his friends to exploit the girls. He is a menace to society and life imprisonment will be highly inadequate in this case."
The prosecution's case was that 19 girls were allegedly gang-raped by three of the accused. The statements of the 19 victims were recorded by a magistrate and, of them; three had appeared before the court to testify against the accused and identified Karanjule, whom they referred to as 'Papa'.
The charge of murder was invoked against Karanjule after it came to light that one of the victims was suffering from jaundice and pneumonia when she was gang-raped. The victim subsequently died.
Source: DNA India, March 12, 2016