The Punjab and Haryana High Court has suspended the sentence and granted bail to a Jammu and Kashmir Police sub-inspector convicted for destroying evidence in the 2018 Kathua rape case, Bar and Bench reported on Wednesday.

Sub Inspector Anand Dutta was one of the six accused persons who were convicted for taking bribe from the prime accused to sabotage the rape case. In June 2019, a sessions court in Punjab’s Pathankot had sentenced Dutta to five years’ imprisonment.

Dutta had challenged the order in the High Court and asked for suspension of the sentence during the pendency of his appeal. On Monday, a bench of Justices Tejinder Singh Dhindsa and Vinod S Bhardwaj suspended Dutta’s sentence for the rest of his jail term and granted him bail.

In January 2018, an eight-year-old girl of the nomadic Bakarwal community was held captive in a temple in Rasana village of Kathua district of Jammu and Kashmir. She was drugged, raped repeatedly, strangled to death and then bludgeoned.

The girl was allegedly abducted on January 10 and killed four days later. Her body was found near Kathua on January 17.

In 2019, the Pathankot court had sentenced three convicts in the case – Sanji Ram, Deepak Khajuria and Parvesh Kumar – to life imprisonment. Sanji Ram, the caretaker of the temple, was the prime accused in the case.

Along with Dutta, head constable Tilak Raj and special police officer Surender Verma were also sentenced to five years of jail.

The three police officers had been convicted under Section 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence, or giving false information to screen offender), Section 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) and Section 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Ranbir Penal Code.

Ranbir Penal Code was the criminal code applicable in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir before its special status was revoked in August 2019.

In his plea challenging the sentence, Dutta had contended that he had been falsely implicated in the case, Live Law reported.

His lawyer Bipan Ghai had argued that Dutta was not the station house officer of the police station where the rape complaint had been lodged.

He claimed that Dutta had officiated as the station house officer only on January 11,2018, and the regular station house officer had returned from his leave the next day. The case was then investigated by deputy superintendent of police of the area and later by a Special Investigation team, the lawyer argued.

On the basis of these claims, Ghai argued that Dutta had no scope to destroy evidence.

Senior Advocate RS Cheema, appearing for the Jammu and Kashmir administration, argued that Dutta being a police officer had colluded with the other accused, including Sanji Ram. Cheema also contended that Dutta’s house is close to where the girl’s family lives and the police officer’s presence in the locality could spark law and order problems.

The court observed that Dutta had already served more than two years and seven months of his jail term. Besides, there had been no untoward incident during the 11 months and 14-day period when he was out of jail on parole, the court said. It also took Article 21 of the Constitution (right to life and liberty) to suspend Dutta’s sentence and grant him bail.