A 10-hour search by over 100 personnel from police, administration, fire and forensics, in the Narmada main canal passing through Vadodara, to recover the body of a migrant worker from Telangana who allegedly died in custody at the Fatehgunj police station, didn’t yield the desired results with only 3.5-kilometre stretch of the canal being covered on Tuesday.
The teams, led by the Vadodara Fire and Emergency Services Department (VFES), rummaged through piles of garbage in the canal from Chhani TP13 area to Gorwa, a day after the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL) closed the water supply into the main canal to allow it to drain. Two separate skeletal remains found in the afternoon turned out to be of animals.
The state Crime Investigation Department (CID), which is investigating the death of Babu Sheikh Nisar, 65, a migrant from Telangana, allegedly due to custodial torture in December 2019, suspects that his body was dumped in the canal by six accused policemen.
The CID will now request for closure of water supply for the second phase of search operation, in due course, officials said. Personnel from the state CID, Vadodara city police, Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC), Vadodara Fire and Emergency Services Department (VFES), State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), forensic science experts and veterinarians joined in the operations.
The CID, based on the mobile phone location of the accused on the day of the crime and the GPS location of the vehicle used to dispose the body, narrowed down on five spots in a stretch of seven kilometres between Chhani and Gorwa, where the body was suspected to have been dumped on December 10, 2019. Around 44 kilometres of the main canal passes through Vadodara.
The fire department used underwater cameras and thermal imaging cameras, racing against time as the VMC had consented to only one day of disruption in water supply. The canal brings 75 million litres per day (MLD) water from the Khanpur Water Treatment Plant to over five lakh residents. The SSNNL supplies water to Khanpur plant as per an agreement with the VMC.
Superintendent of Police, CID, Girish Pandya, said that although the search on Tuesday was unsuccessful, the department was working on “specific input”. Speaking to The Indian Express, Pandya said, “We have technical inputs as well as human intelligence and it is specific. Tuesday’s search did not yield positive result but we will carry out another search soon.”
The six accused — 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.
Nisar’s son Salim termed the exercise by CID as “hogwash”. Salim told The Indian Express, “It is unbelievable that the department suddenly realised that the body could be in a canal. They claim that the six policemen did not utter a word during questioning… almost a month later, they say that the body is in the canal… This is to expedite the closure of the probe and file the chargesheet after 90 days… The chargesheet will be a ticket to bail for the six accused policemen as without a confession or the body of my father, there can be no strong case against the accused… We do not expect them to find anything.”
For the fire department, which began the operation along with SDRF divers, the task was complicated due to the presence of garbage in the canal. Fire Officer of Chhani Fire station, Om Jadeja, said, “We had divided the canal stretch in four zones. We need to scan potential areas where unwanted materials are trapped in the water body. The CID officials guided us, but the presence of close to 20 tonnes of garbage in the canal was a hindrance. Also, the sun sets earlier due to winter, causing low visibility. We had very little time.”
Jadeja added that the second round of search could take place a week later, while VMC officials said it would be discussed since it involves water supply to nearly half the city. Officials of SSNNL said that any decision on another request from the CID would be taken in consultation with the VMC. An SSNNL official also added that given the possible visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Kevadia in Narmada on October 31 to inaugurate the seaplane project, the second round of draining the canal may happen only in November.
“Cutting off water supply to the main canal for two days requires some planning. We will consult the VMC if a second request is made,” the official said.
Nisar, who arrived in Vadodara on December 10, 2019, accompanied by 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 he saw Nisar tied to a chair with a belt and rope in the computer room of the police station, while the six accused tortured him to extract a confession of the theft.
Earlier this year, Salim submitted an application to the Commissioner of Police, Vadodara city, alleging foul play. The Vadodara police conducted an inquiry but did not lead to any conclusion. On June 20, the family filed a habeas corpus petition in the Gujarat High Court, which ordered the probe to be transferred to the state CID on August 6.
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