The Jammu and Kashmir High Court on Saturday ordered the resumption of the trial in the 2003 Nadimarg killings, 11 years after it had come to an abrupt halt, Live Law reported.
A single bench of Justice Vinod Chatterji Koul directed a trial court to expedite the proceedings in the case and ensure witnesses are examined through video conference.
Twenty-four Kashmiri Pandits were killed by militants wearing military-style clothing in the remote village of Nadimarg in Jammu and Kashmir’s Shopian district on March 23, 2003. The militants had overpowered the policemen guarding the village and had asked Kashmiri Pandits to assemble in the village before opening fire at them.
A month after the incident, the Jammu and Kashmir Police had arrested a Pakistan-based militant Zia Mustafa. He was accused of killing the residents after directions from the leadership of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, according to The Indian Express. The jailed militant was killed in 2021 during a police shootout in the Poonch district.
In October 2003, a Shopian court had framed charges in the case against 11 people including seven police officers. They were charged with dereliction of duty.
However, the case dragged on as the prosecution could produce only nine of the 38 listed witnesses. As result, the court in 2011 said that no more time could be granted to produce witnesses and closed the evidence of the prosecution.
At the time, the prosecution had argued that many witnesses left Kashmir and were reluctant to return and appear before the court. However, the court had noted that the statements of all the witnesses were very important, reported Live Law.
Three years later, the order was challenged by the Jammu and Kashmir government in the High Court, which subsequently dismissed the petition as the state prosecutor failed to appear for the hearing.
In 2015, the state government approached the Supreme Court which directed the High Court to re-consider the petition. However, the prosecution again failed to appear before the court and the petition was dismissed citing a “lack of interest” in 2017, according to The Indian Express.
On Saturday, the High Court agreed to list a review petition in the case and observed that the trial court failed to notice the difficulty faced by the prosecution in procuring witnesses.
Justice Koul said that the trial court dismissed the prosecution’s application on “irrelevant consideration” and overlooked the material and relevant aspects of the case, reported Live Law.
“The court below, in the present case, could have allowed the application of the prosecution-petitioner and could have recorded the statement of witnesses on commission or through video-conferencing,” he said.