October 18, 2020
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PW-20: Beena Ramani

Part 8 of 11 of the High Court Judgement: '...a reliable witness and, in fact, the only brave person present in that party to muster courage to face the shooter while others who claim to be socialites, did not have the courage to raise a litt

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PW-20: Beena Ramani
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35. The next witness of utmost importance of the case is PW-20, Beena Ramani. She states that she is the owner of a property near Qutub Minar bearing No. H-5/6, Mehrauli Road, New Delhi which was acquired in September, 1995. The property has a shopping arcade in the name of 'Qutub Colonnade', the name of the restaurant was 'Tamarind Court Cafe' which had a proper licence for eating house. The licence of the restaurant was in the name of 'Once Upon a Time' which started business in 1996. She goes on to depose that parties in the restaurant could be booked on any day as per the desire of the customer, but on Thursdays there used to be special private parties where guests could come by invitation. She goes on to say that liquor was served in the courtyard on Thursday parties. PW-6, Malini Ramani, used to manage these Thursday parties.

The witness further states that she knew Jessica Lal and Shyan Munshi and that there was a proper staff to run the restaurant although friends did help in the Thursday parties. Jessica Lal and Shyan Munshi were friends of Malini Ramani and were helping her on that night. The witness goes on to depose that on the night of 29.4.1999, a Thursday party was organized to bid farewell to her husband who was leaving for a found-the-world trip. The party was over by 1/1.30 a.m. These Thursday parties and special parties were organized generally and were held in the courtyard and on the roof top.

After the party was over, she was anxious to clean up the place and relieve the waiters so that they were available for proper duties on the following morning. At that time, there were some guests left in the courtyard and she spotted some guests in the restaurant where nobody was supposed to be. She walked towards the restaurant. While she was moving towards the restaurant, she crossed Malini Ramani . She moved into the steps of the restaurant and saws a few people standing next to the counter and heard a firing shot. A moment later, she heard another shot. At that time, Jessica Lal, who was standing with some people at the far end, was seen by the witness falling down.

There was a door to her right which was swung open with Shyan Munshi coming out with some other person saying that Jessica had been shot. The witness told Shyan Munshi to call Police or doctor or ambulance and was stopping the man accompanying him. There was commotion. All the people who were with Jessical Lal starting coming out. The companion of Shyan Munshi was wearing a white T-shirt. He was chubby and fair and this witness asked him as to who he was and why he was there and also why he had shot Jessica Lal. The witness also asked him to give her his gun, which she thought he was having. The person in the white T-shirt denied having shot yet, the witness goes on to say, she asked him again and he kept quiet shaking his head that it was not him. As all others were leaving, the person in the white T-shirt shoved the witness aside and went out. The witness followed him all the way to the front gate of the main building. She could not catch hold of this person.

In the meantime, she was shouting instructions to guests to call hospital or to take Jessica Lal. On reaching the gate, she saw her husband standing there and told him that this was the man who had shot Jessica Lal and to see in what car he was getting into. The witness goes on to say that the person who was told to be seen by her husband was with some friends at the time of occurrence inside the cafe. The witness identified Sidhartha Vashisht @ Manu Sharma by touching him and also went on to identify Amardeep Singh Gill, Alok Khanna and Vikas Yadav as the persons along with Manu Sharma.

Further, the witness goes on to say that from the gate she returned to the restaurant where the waiters had slipped a table cloth under Jessica's body. The witness continued to give instructions to get medical help for Jessica and removed her to Ashlok Hospital. Jessica Lal was still alive and was removed to Ashlok Hospital in the car belonging to Sanjay Mehtani. The witness goes on to say that the report about the incident was lodged in her presence by Shyan Munshi. Jessica Lal was then removed to Apollo Hospital where she was declared dead. A week later, she saw Sidhartha Vashisht at the Police Station

36. This witness was cross-examined by counsel for Sidhartha Vashishta @ Manu Sharma, but to no meaningful end. In other words, her testimony remained unchallenged. The trial court while dealing with this witness has held that this witness does not further the case of the Prosecution as the witness was not an eye witness to the occurrence but a witness to the presence of Sidhartha Vashishta @ Manu Sharma, Amardeep Singh Gill,Alok Khanna and Vikas Yadav at the Qutub Colonnade.

The trial court also held that the deposition of this witness was vague since she thought that Manu Sharma was carrying a gun and also felt that he may have shot Jessica Lal. The Court also held that mere feelings were not enough and did not mean that Sidhartha Vashisht @ Manu Sharma had actually fired a shot at Jessica Lal. The trial court further went totally wrong in holding that PW-20 had admitted not seeing Sidhartha Vashisht firing a shot at Jessica Lal, but it was only her feeling. With great respect to the learned Judge, we find this is 'a complete misreading of evidence'. There is no suggestion let alone an admission on the part of PW-20, Beena Ramani, that she had not seen the accused Sidhartha Vashisht firing a shot at Jessica Lal. On the contrary, we find positive assertion by the witness to the following effect :

'I saw a few people standing next to the counter and I heard a shot. A moment later, I heard another shot. Jessica Lal was standing with people at the far end and I saw her falling down. There was a door to my right. It could be swung open and Shyan Munshi came out with another person who was either ahead of him or behind him. Shyan Munshi said that Jessica Lal had been shot. I told Shyan to call the police or doctor or ambulance and I stopped the man accompanying him. There was commotion. All the people who were with Jessica Lal earlier, started coming out. The companion of Shyan was wearing white T- shirt. He was Chabbi and fair and I asked him as to who he was. ?Why are you here and why he shot Jessica Lal. I also asked him to give me his gun. I thought he might be having a gun?. He said that it was not him. I asked him again and he kept quiet and shaking his hand that it was not him. As all others were leaving, therefore, the companion of Shyan also shoved me aside and went out. I ran after him. Again said behind him all the way to the front gate of the main building. He was a few steps ahead of me and I could not catch him. In the meantime, I was shouting instructions to the guests to call hospital or to take Jessica Lal. I reached the gate. My husband was standing there and I told him that this was the man, who had shot Jessica Lal and to see in what car he gets into.'

37. This statement of Bina Ramani clearly shows that she had herself seen Sidhartha Vashisht shooting Jessica Lal as otherwise she had no reason to ask him why he had shot Jessical Lal. The aforesaid view taken by the trial Court appears to have been taken on a concession made by the Special Public Prosecutor himself who put forth this argument that it was her feeling that Manu Sharma might have shot at Jessica Lal and also that she had admitted that she was not an eye witness. The trial court, however, instead of itself reading the evidence of Bina Ramani proceeded to wrongly record acceptance of this submission of the prosecutor. If the evidence of the witness had been read properly, the Court could not have held that this witness had admitted that she had not seen Manu Sharma firing at Jessica Lal. There is no suggestion, let alone an admission on the part of PW-20, Bina Ramani, that she had not seen the accused Sidhartha Vashisht firing a shot at Jessica Lal. This kind of approach of the trial Court has caused grave miscarriage of justice. There is no doubt that the Court is not supposed to simply convict someone without any evidence but at the same time the Court is also to ensure that guilty is not allowed to go scot free simply by accepting concessions made by the Public Prosecutor.

38. Beena Ramani's presence as an eye witness was sought to be challenged by recourse to the deposition of PW-46, Madan Kumar, and PW-47, Jatinder Raj, who were employees at the Qutub Colonnade. It was argued that Madan Kumar rushed to the spot after hearing 'goli lag gai' and saw Jessica Lal lying on the floor. Some guests, Beena Ramani and Jatinder Raj were present there. This part of the deposition is sought to mean that Beena Ramani did not confront Manu Sharma nor followed him nor asked George Mailhot to keep a watch on Manu Sharma. However, from an analysis of the testimony of PW-46, we find that he came to the spot subsequent to the fire. He did not hear the firing but heard people shouting 'goli lag gai'. It is then that he ran down by which time Beena Ramani must have returned to the Cafe after confronting Manu Sharma. This witness certainly deposes to the presence of Beena Ramani at the spot. He also corroborates Beena Ramani's actions thereafter. PW-47, Jatinder Raj, has stated that he was counting cash and was tallying the same when he heard firing of two shots from the side of the Cafe. He saw from the gate of his office people coming in and going out. At that time he saw Bena Ramani at the stairs of the cafe. He rushed towards her and both went inside the cafe. This, by itself, does not show that when the shots were fired, the witness was along with Beena Ramani in the Cafe. He also came soon after Beena Ramani had come back to the Cafe. Since he was the in-charge of the cash, he would have never left the cash unattended or without securing it before running out. We, therefore, find no substance in the criticism that Beena Ramani was not present when the shots were fired.

39. From the above it cannot be said that Beena Ramani had not seen Sidhartha Vashiushth @ Manu Sharma firing at Jessica Lal. On the contrary, it is a positive statement of the witness that it was Sidhartha Vashisht @ Manu Sharma who fired at Jessica Lal after which Jessica Lal fell down. The witness is a witness of events that took place and is an eye witness to the main occurrence. We have already pointed out that this witness has not been cross- examined at all on this aspect. A general criticism of the Ramani family has been made by learned counsel for Manu Sharma that they were under constant Police pressure and, therefore, were toeing the Police version.

40. We have given our careful thought to this argument and find no substance in it. The excise case which is being trumpeted as Police pressure, can hardly be said to be of such a nature as could warrant the entire family supporting a false or a frivolous case. In any event, in the excise case the accused pleaded guilty and were sentenced with a fine only. The mere fact that Beena Ramani, Malini Ramani and George Mailhot were called to the Police Station on several occasions, is no indication of Police pressure to book a false case and their repeated interrogation cannot be made a ground to discard this evidence since they were accused in an excise case where investigation was going on. Their sustained interrogation was necessary because they were running illegal pub. There were so many VIPs in that illegal pub on the fateful night.

We were told during the arguments by the learned Standing Counsel for the State that one very senior police officer had also attended that party on 29th April,1999. So, there was nothing abnormal in the repeated interrogation of the Ramani family as the police might be wanting to find out who those persons were and why they were coming to that illegal pub. The argument that the testimony of PW-20, PW-6 and PW-24 is hit by Section 163 of the Criminal Procedure Code, though attractive it may sound, is devoid of any merits.

From the analysis of the deposition of PW-20, whom we find a reliable witness and, in fact, the only brave person present in that party to muster courage to face the shooter while others who claim to be socialites, did not have the courage to raise a little finger to apprehend the culprit whom this witness was chasing and shouting that he was the person who had shot Jessica Lal, the involvement of Sidhartha Vashisht @ Manu Sharma in the murder of Jessica Lal is writ large. It was Sidhartha Vashisht @ Manu Sharma who pulled out his pistol, fired two shots one in the ceiling and the other at Jessica Lal.


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