A division bench of Justices V M Kanade and P D Kode ordered transfer of the probe from Special Investigating Team (SIT) of Mumbai police to CBI on a petition filed by actress’ mother Rabia Khan, who has alleged her daughter was murdered and had not committed suicide as claimed by the city police.
“The case is handed over to CBI for further investigation to assess whether Jiah Khan committed suicide or was murdered,” the judges said.
The judges said they were not expressing any opinion about the merits of investigation done by Mumbai police.
The state government and city police were directed to extend necessary cooperation and logistical support to the Central agency in conducting the probe.
Explaining the reasons for transferring the case to CBI, the bench said forensic opinion privately obtained by Rabia were at variance with those of Mumbai police, suggesting there was a “lacuna” in the investigation.
Besides, the SIT constituted by the Mumbai police on the court’s directive had several officers who were part of an earlier team of the city police which had conducted the probe and concluded it was a case of suicide.
Jiah, the 25-year-old British-American actress, was found hanging from a ceiling fan at her home in Juhu on June 3 last year.
Jiah’s relationship with newbie actor Suraj Pancholi, son of actors couple Aditya pancholi and Zareena Wahab, was said to be under strain and it was suspected that it drove her to end her life.
However, her mother Rabia moved the High Court seeking a CBI probe suspecting her daughter was murdered.
Police have already charge-sheeted Suraj for abetment Jiah’s suicide.
While handing over the case to CBI, the court pulled it up for showing reluctance to take up the investigation citing shortage of officers.
Before the court passed its order, CBI counsel Vedika Gonsalves said the agency was already burdened with a large number cases and faced shortage of officers.
“It is not expected of CBI to come out with such an excuse saying they do not have enough officers to conduct a probe. In a country of one billion people an investigative agency like CBI should not take such a stance otherwise where will the citizens go to seek justice,” Justice Kanade said.
The judge said two officers of the US consulate were present through the hearing as the deceased was an American citizen.
“This shows how much concern that country has for its citizens. Look at our own agency which is refusing to do the probe. They (CBI) must learn from their example,” Justice Kanade said.
Rabia had in January this year written to the then US Ambassador to India Nancy Powell seeking FBI assistance in the probe and, according to a communication from the authorities on behalf of the envoy, the FBI was prepared to lend a helping hand in the probe provided India agreed.
It was for a second time that Rabia has approached the High Court for handing over the case to CBI. In October 2013, she had filed a petition seeking a CBI probe but did not press for it after the court asked the police to record her statement and investigate the case from the angle of murder.
The police had probed the case accordingly but again concluded it to be a case of suicide and charged Suraj with abetment.
Rabia, 53, cited circumstances which she claimed pointed to Jiah having been killed.
In her petition, she referred to the air-conditioner in Jiah’s bedroom being on but windows open when she was found dead. There was no explanation as to how Jiah reached the ceiling fan to hang herself when there was no stool in the house, Rabia said, claiming there was a foul play.
Rabia blamed Suraj for her daughter’s death and said she had carried out a sting operation on a few witnesses who said in an audio recording that they had not told the police what had been recorded in their statements, thereby raising doubts about the police version that Jiah had committed suicide.
Rabia alleged that the police had ignored the opinion of a forensic expert procured by her.
The expert said prominent injury mark on her neck was not possible to have been caused by a muslin ‘dupatta’ Jiah was claimed to have used to hang herself. Also, the injury mark had two prominent outer lines running parallel to each other which was possible if a belt was used for murder.
Besides, injury marks on the lips, chin and hands of the deceased had not been explained at all, she alleged in her petition.