Updated: Jun 29, 2020
Bench: P. Sathasivam, Swatanter Kumar
SIDDHARTHA VASHISHTHA @MANU SHARMA v. STATE (NCT OF DELHI)  is a murder case of a young model in New Delhi who was working as a celebrity barmaid at a crowded socialite party when she was shot dead at around 2 am on 30 April 1999. Manu Sharma was held guilty for firing the bullet at Jessica Lal when she refused to serve liquor to Manu Sharma and his friends. This case gained a lot of publicity through media so the case proceedings were conducted on fast track and Manu Sharma was found guilty of having murdered Lal. He was sentenced to life imprisonment on 20 December 2006.
Jessica Lal was a model in New Delhi who was working as a celebrity barmaid at a crowded socialite party when she was shot dead at around 2 am on 30 April 1999. Dozens of witnesses pointed to Siddharth Vashisht, also known as Manu Sharma, the son of Venod Sharma, a wealthy and influential Congress-nominated Member of Parliament from Haryana, as the murderer. In the ensuing trial, Manu Sharma and a number of others were acquitted on 21 February 2006.
Following intense media and public pressure, the prosecution appealed and the Delhi High Court conducted proceedings on a fast track with daily hearings conducted over 25 days. The trial court judgment was overturned, and Manu Sharma was found guilty of having murdered Lal. He was sentenced to life imprisonment on 20 December 2007.
On 29 April 1999, Lal was one of several models working at an unlicensed bar at a party in a restaurant overlooking the Qutub Minar in Mehrauli. By midnight, the bar had run out of liquor and it would, in any event, have ceased sales at 12.30 am. After midnight, Manu Sharma walked in with three friends and demanded liquor, offering ₹ 1000 for it. Lal refused and Sharma then fired a .22 calibre pistol at the. Lal refused again, Sharma fired again and the second bullet hit Lal in the head, killing her.
A melee followed the shooting, during which Sharma and his friends — Amardeep Singh Gill, Vikas Yadav, and Alok Khanna — left the scene. Thereafter, it was reported that contact could not be made with Sharma's family, including his mother, and that they were "absconding". After eluding police for a few days, with the assistance of accomplices, Khanna and Gill were arrested on 4 May and Sharma on 6 May.
The case by now involved several prominent people. Manu Sharma himself was the son of Venod Sharma, who at the time of the shooting was a former minister of the national government and by the time of the subsequent trial, was a minister in the Haryana state government. Yadav was the son of another state politician, D. P. Yadav. Bina Ramani, who had redeveloped the premises where the party took place, was a socialite and fashion designer who allegedly had contacts in high places and whose daughter Malini Ramani knew Lal as a fellow-model. Singh managed the distribution of Maaza in Chandigarh.
Amit Jhigan, an accomplice of Sharma, was arrested on 8 May and charged for conspiring to destroy evidence, as it is believed that he had retrieved the pistol from its original hiding place near the bar. While he remained in custody, Yadav was still at large and it had also proved impossible to locate his father, who had promised to deliver his son to the police.
The initial trial began in August 1999. By the end of hearings, four of the main witnesses who said they were present on that day, opposed their own statements. After large affidavit of dozens of witnesses, all nine suspects, including Manu Sharma were acquitted in the lower court on 21st February 2006. The decision was completely based on Judge’s reasoning that the police had failed to find the weapon, which was used to kill Jessica and to gather enough evidence to support the claim that the two cartridges recovered from the crime scene were fired from the same weapon.
With the growing pressure from the public, the higher courts of New Delhi admitted a police appeal on 26 March 2006. It was not a retrial but an appeal based on the evidence already assembled by the lower courts mainly due to the re-examination of the bullet casings found at the crime scene.
On 15 December 2006, the High Court ruled that Sharma was guilty based on existing evidence, based on two used cartridges recovered from the Sharma’s car. The ballistic analysis for one the bullets matched the bullet recovered from Lal’s skull and criticised the trial judge, S. L. Bhayana.
On 20 December 2006, Sharma was punished with a sentence of life imprisonment and a fine. The other accused, Yadav and Gill, were fined and given four years imprisonment.
On 19th April 2010, the Supreme Court confirmed the sentenced given by the High Court.
The trial court acquitted them because Delhi Police failed to sustain grounds and linked the chains on which they built their case.
High Court Judgement said that the Trial Court failed in considering the testimony of witnesses such as Bina Ramani and Deepak Bhojwani whereas Sharma’s lawyer said that the Judgement was wrong in holding Bina Ramani as a witness.
Late Advocate Ram Jethmalani, said that media had conducted the campaign to vilify his client but Supreme Court though accepting that there was an element of “Trial by Media” but facts, witnesses and shreds of evidence were sufficient to prove that Manu Sharma was guilty.
According to me, The Jessica Lal case reveals the social legal status of India. The first its in media and the way news and film media influenced the outcome of the case. Jessica would be a young woman who died brutally and tragically if it was not the publicity her case received. Instead of falling into obscurity, this minor actor and model became a symbol for the nation, to represent the often suppressed frustration of the people.
The second aspect reveals about the current judicial system and shows the progress, the Indian public has made to improve its judicial system.