The second search operation in the Narmada canal to trace the body of Babu Sheikh Nisar, 65-year-old migrant worker from Telangana who allegedly died of custodial torture at the Fatehgunj police station of Vadodara city police in December 2019, drew a blank on Tuesday.
A team of around 100 officials from the police department, administration, fire, State Disaster Response Force and forensics scanned about eight kilometres of the Narmada canal passing through Vadodara, but were unable to locate any human remains in the water body. The State Crime Investigation Department (CID) has now decided to widen its search in the Mahisagar River catchment areas.
Fire Officer Om Jadeja of the Vadodara Fire and Emergency Services Department (VFES), told The Indian Express that the search operation was called off at 5pm, after searching for around 10 hours with the help of underwater cameras and manually searching through the garbage in the canal stretch from Chhani TP13 area to Gorwa, a day after the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL) shut the water supply into the main canal to allow it to drain off for the second time in two weeks. The first search was carried out on October 20.
Jadeja said, “We used underwater cameras and scanned the six siphoning areas but could locate only animal remains. We were working under the guidance of the CID and at around 5pm, the CID consented to conclude the operation with a remark that ‘satisfactory search had been undertaken’. It is highly unlikely that the skeleton is in the canal and there is no need for another round of search.”
A CID official told this newspaper that the department has now turned its focus to the catchment areas of Mahisagar river, where the sleuths visited on Sunday and questioned residents of seven villages, showing them photographs of the victim and accused policemen.
The CID visit came after Nisar’s son Salim raised questions about police ignoring the statement of head constable Mahesh Rathwa, whose car was allegedly used by the accused to carry the body for disposal. Rathwa claimed in his statement that one of the accused told him that they had carried wood and petrol to burn the body early morning on December 11.
An officer said, “There is specific input about the body being dumped in a water body. We are now looking at the possibility of two lakes that are closer to Fatehgunj police station in Vadodara as well as the Mahisagar river areas, which are remote and the likelihood of destruction of evidence is high. We may seek assistance from the local authorities if needed.”
The CID, based on technical and human intelligence had narrowed down on five spots in a stretch of seven kilometres of the canal from Chhani to Gorwa, suspecting that the six accused policemen could have dumped Nisar’s body in the canal on December 10, 2019, after he died in custody.
Six accused police officers — inspector DB Gohil, sub-inspector DM Rabari and Lok Rakshak Dal jawans Pankaj Mavjibhai, Yogendra Jilansinh, Rajiv Savjibhai and Hitesh Shambubhai — were “non-cooperative” during their seven-day remand with the CID, after they surrendered on September 2. Thereafter, they were sent to judicial custody in the Vadodara Central Jail.
Nisar, who came to Vadodara on December 10, 2019, along with his son-in-law to sell bedsheets, allegedly went missing after officers of Fatehgunj police station apprehended him for a suspected theft in Chhani area. An FIR was filed by the Vadodara police in July this year, relying on the statement of assistant head constable Shaktisinh, who said that the six accused tortured Nisar to extract a confession of the theft.
The Vadodara police conducted an inquiry based on an application of Salim Nisar but did not lead to any conclusion. On June 20, Salim filed a habeas corpus petition in the Gujarat High Court. On June 25, both the investigations were merged and handed over to Vadodara E Division. On August 6, the Gujarat HC directed the probe to be transferred to the state CID.
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