Karnataka HC stays non-bailable warrant; Murugha seer released hours after arrest
Second Additional Sessions Judge BK Komala in Chitradurga issued the non-bailable warrant, leading to the arrest of Shivamurthy Sharana
The High Court of Karnataka on Monday directed the prison authorities in Chitradurga to immediately release Shivamurthy Sharana, the pontiff of the Chitradurga Murugharajendra Bruhan Math, who was arrested and sent to judicial custody earlier in the day.
A non-bailable warrant (NBW) was issued against the Seer earlier on Monday by the Second Additional Sessions Judge BK Komala in Chitradurga, in the second Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act case against him.
He was arrested subsequently by the Chitradurga police from Virakta Math in Davangere, where he was staying after getting bail in the first POCSO case, and produced before the trial court in Chitradurga, which sent him to 14 days in judicial custody. The seer’s advocate challenged this before the bench of Justice Suraj Govindaraj, in the evening.
The court was informed that the Special Public Prosecutor (SPP) had filed a memo before the trial court seeking a NBW against the seer. The memo stated that there was no HC order allowing him to appear through video conferencing.
‘Can’t misinterpret order’
“You can't misinterpret the order of this court just because it is a sensational case,” Justice Govindaraj said while setting aside the NBW and directing the seer's release. “It is rather surprising that the SPP is not aware of the order dated 8-11-23 of this court. This court has categorically ordered accused number one (Seer) not to enter Chitradurga and attend court hearings by video conferencing,” the HC said.
“I am of the considered opinion that once there is a restriction imposed on the petitioner from entering Chitradurga district it would not only apply to the case giving rise to the petition, but to all proceedings in the district of Chitradurga. The petitioner has been restricted from entering into the said district and permitted to attend through video conferencing,” said Justice Govindaraj.
The orders passed by the trial court are contrary to the orders passed by this Court, the Judge said. “I am of the considered opinion that this court has to exercise its inherent powers to render effective justice. The above recited facts and the manner in which the orders have been passed would indicate that a gross injustice has been caused to the petitioner in violation of the order passed by this court.” Subsequently, the HC stayed the NBW issued by the trial court earlier in the day.
“Consequently, the NBW issued and the arrest made, which is contrary to the orders of this court is set at naught,” the HC said and directed the prison authorities of Chitradurga district to forthwith “release the petitioner.” “This is a very weird situation,” the HC observed and also directed the lower court to comply with the interim order passed by it in the bail orders.
The high court also noted that another single judge bench of the HC before which the trial was challenged had reserved its judgment and directed the lower court to defer the proceedings until final orders are passed by it.
The HC on Monday said that in view of the order to defer the proceedings by the co-ordinate bench, the issue of the petitioner (seer) appearing in the case in Chitradurga does not arise.
During the hearing, the HC also observed that the court's order in the bail petition disallowing the petitioner from entering the district was violated by arresting the seer and bringing him to Chitradurga and again sending him to JC (Judicial Custody) in a jail in Chitradurga.
POCSO cases against seer
The seer was in custody since September 1, 2022 and was granted bail by the High Court on November 8 in the first of the two POCSO cases against him, following which he was released from jail here on November 16. After he was set free, the seer was staying at the Virakta Math in Davangere.
The High Court in its November 8 order had imposed several conditions for the bail in one of the two POCSO cases against the pontiff, including that he will not be allowed to enter Chitradurga district till the completion of the investigation in the cases. He was granted bail on a personal bond of Rs 2 lakh and two sureties for similar amounts, and warned not to tamper with evidence or influence the witnesses.
The first complaint against the pontiff and four others was filed by the 'Odanadi Seva Samsthe', an NGO, in Mysuru alleging sexual harassment of minor students studying in the mutt’s school and staying in its hostel in Chitradurga.
The Nazarabad police in Mysuru had registered a case under POCSO and the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The case was transferred to the Chitradurga Rural police station subsequently.
The second case under POCSO was registered after the mother of two minor girls filed a complaint alleging that her two daughters and two other minor girls were sexually assaulted by the seer while they were residing in the hostel in 2019 and 2022.
The complaint had also alleged that the junior seer Basavaditya and others including Paramashivaiah, Gangadhar, Mahalinga and Karibasappa were involved. Paramashivaiah's name was dropped from the chargesheet in the second case subsequently.
(With agency inputs)