New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday refused to go into the question of whether the probe into the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua should be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), declaring: “The police investigates."

At the same time, it issued notice to the state of Jammu and Kashmir on a plea by the victim’s father seeking to transfer the Kathua rape and murder trial to Chandigarh because of the protests it has sparked.

The top court also directed the state authorities to provide protection to the victim’s family and their lawyers Deepika S. Rajawat and Talib Hussain.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said that it would not go into the issue of whether the CBI should be asked to investigate.

“Unless there is a strong reason for getting another agency to probe, the police investigates. We don’t wish to get into who should probe and will go by the principles of victim protection and fair trial," Misra said.

Indira Jaising, the senior advocate representing the petitioner’s family, urged the court to transfer the trial outside the state as the polarized atmosphere was not conducive to a fair trial.

“It would be impossible to have a fair trial in J&K. We have asked for it to be transferred to Chandigarh due to its proximity to J&K. But ultimately, it is for the court to decide," she said.

The biological father of the victim, an orphan, had moved the apex court earlier in the day seeking an urgent transfer of the trial from Kathua to Chandigarh and adequate protection to the family of the victim and lawyers engaged in the matter.

Local lawyers from the J&K Bar Association, who had stopped the police from filing the chargesheet, want the probe to be handed over to the CBI. Two ministers belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party have resigned after joining rallies in support of the accused.

The eight-year-old girl from the nomadic Bakerwal Muslim community had disappeared from near her home in a village near Kathua in the Jammu region on 10 January. Her body was found in the same area a week later.

The state police say she was raped by six men who held her in captivity in a village temple for a week. The girl was drugged and raped repeatedly before being bludgeoned to death, the chargesheet says. The incident sparked outrage and protests across the country.

A special investigation team (SIT) formed to probe the incident has arrested eight suspects including two special police officers and a head constable, who have been charged with destroying evidence.

As the trial of the eight accused of raping and killing the eight-year old girl began in Kathua on Monday before the district and sessions judge Sanjay Gupta, the accused pleaded not guilty and offered to undergo narco tests to prove their innocence. While seven accused were presented before the judge, the eighth is a juvenile who has moved a bail application before a judicial magistrate. The next date for trial is 28 April, a day after the Supreme Court hearing.

Breaking his silence over the gruesome incident, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on 13 April, “I want to assure the nation that no criminal will be spared. Justice will be done. Our daughters will get justice. We all will have to work together to end this internal evil".

The matter will be heard next on 27 April.

PTI contributed to this story.