THE CBI on Tuesday arrested Inspector General of Police Zahur H Zaidi, Deputy Superintendent of Police Manoj Joshi and six other police personnel — all part of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) set up to probe the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl in July — in connection with the custodial death of an accused in the case. Zaidi, a 1994-batch IPS officer, was the IGP (South Range, Shimla) at the time of the incident. He was later shunted out and posted as IG (administration), Police Headquarters. Joshi is Deputy SP of Theog.
The other policemen who have been arrested are Rajinder Singh, who was SHO, Kotkhai police station; ASI Deep Chand Sharma, who was the investigating officer in the rape-murder case; head-constables Mohan Lal, Surat Singh and Rafiq Ali; and constable Ranjit Singh. “The CBI has arrested eight police officials of Himachal Pradesh, including an IGP… in an ongoing investigation of a case relating to custodial death of an accused, Suraj Singh,” said CBI spokesperson R K Gaur.
The eight police personnel were produced before the Shimla district court, which sent them to CBI custody till September 4.The case dates back to the night of July 18, when Suraj Singh, 29, a labourer from Nepal who was among those arrested for the rape-murder, died in custody. The police claimed that he was killed by the main accused, Rajender Singh, inside his cell at the Kotkhai police station — the police station was burnt down by protesters the next day.
Highly placed CBI sources said the forensic evidence, post-mortem report and statement of the night guard at the Kotkhai police station contradicted the police claim that Suraj Singh was killed in a scuffle in his cell. The night guard, Constable Dinesh Kumar, 23, is now the CBI’s key witness and has been provided police protection. Sources said that Dinesh Kumar, in his statement to the CBI, said that Suraj Singh was not in his cell at the time of his death. He had reportedly been taken for interrogation, and was brought back in a critical condition. “He was taken to the local government hospital at around midnight, where he was declared dead,” said a police officer who did not want to be named.
Suraj Singh’s wife Mamta, currently living at a Nari Niketan near Shimla, is reported to have told the investigating team that Rajender Singh treated her husband like a brother. “My husband was an honest person. He was falsely implicated in the case, and tortured to death by the police. Raju (Rajender Singh) used to treat him like his brother and could have never killed him,” she had earlier told The Indian Express.
The CBI probe was ordered by the high court on July 19, following widespread protests over the incident. The CBI registered two separate FIRs — one on the rape-murder of the girl, and the other on the custodial death. The body of the Class X girl was found in the Halaila forests of Mahasu in the apple-rich Kotkhai area, 56 km from Shimla, on July 6, two days after she went missing on her way home after school. An SIT headed by Zaidi was set up three days later on the orders of the high court, following widespread protests across the state.
On July 13, the SIT arrested six persons — Ashish Chauhan, 29, of Shaaral village in Kotkhai, the son of a prominent orchard owner, main accused Rajender Singh, a 32-year-old from Mandi working in Halaila village in Kotkhai as manager-and-driver at another prominent orchard, Subhash Singh Bisht, 42, Deepak, 38, (both from Uttarakhand), Suraj Singh and Lok Jan, 19 (both from Nepal). The high court, which is monitoring the case, has asked the CBI to submit its status report on September 6.