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Thursday, June 17, 2021

Vadodara police seeks RTO report on whether SUV has ‘enough space’ for rape

The LCB has asked the RTO to issue a certificate for an SUV confiscated in an alleged case of rape.

Written by Aditi Raja | Vadodara |
Updated: May 9, 2021 3:01:09 am
LCB officers said the need for expert opinion was felt in order to “substantiate” the case, currently based on the complainant’s statement.

It is not unusual for the Road Transport Office (RTO) to be approached by the police for technical certificates for investigation of vehicles involved in accidents or hit and run cases. But recently the Vadodara RTO has received a rather unusual request from the Local Crime Branch (LCB) of the Vadodara district police that has left its officials “baffled”.

The LCB has sought the RTO to issue a certificate for a sports utility vehicle (SUV), confiscated in an alleged case of rape, to ascertain if the vehicle would have “enough space” for the alleged crime to take place after the front seat was “pushed back”. It has also sought a report on the sturdiness of the vehicle’s central locking system.

Officials at the Vadodara RTO said it was the first such request they have had received to examine if a vehicle, a Toyota Fortuner brand, involved in a rape case. The police have identified the SUV owner and accused as Bhavesh Patel, a former councillor of Padra Municipality and former director of an agricultural produce market corporation (APMC) and a “notorious bootlegger”.

An RTO official, who did not wish to be named, said, “The RTO issues certificates after inspecting cars involved in hit-and-run and accidents, where we essentially certify the fitness of the vehicle to run on the road, the braking system, registration of vehicles, tracking owners and drivers’ licences that help police in case of accidents. This is definitely the first time that the police have asked for a technical certificate for the central locking system and the leg space that can be created by pushing back the seats — these are usually not required in other criminal cases. The RTO can only give the mathematical report. The department definitely cannot opine on whether the crime has occurred in that much space or not. It is for the police to prove.”

LCB officers, meanwhile, told The Indian Express a need for the certificate was felt to “substantiate” the case, which is currently based on the complainant’s statement.

LCB Police Inspector Divansinh Vala said, “The reason we have written to the RTO is to get the technical certificate and expert opinion on the vehicle to prove that such a crime could have occurred in the vehicle, as reported by the woman.”

Vala said the LCB has conducted “height tests” on the woman and the accused to appropriate the findings of the RTO report regarding the leg space available to commit the crime. “We have specifically asked the RTO about the central locking system because we are anticipating that the defence will raise questions about why the victim did not open the door and escape when the vehicle was stationary,” Vala said.

According to the complainant, Patel and the woman knew each other through a common friend. The woman was attending the party at a farmhouse on April 26, when at midnight a police patrol team reached the spot and the woman took cover in a nearby field. She had called up her friend from her cell phone and requested to be picked up from there, the complainant said. According to her, the friend had sent Patel to help her at the farmhouse.

Patel, who had arrived past midnight, took the woman to a deserted location and tried to rape her. The accused also threatened the woman when she resisted, the complaint said. Later, he drove the vehicle for close to two hours and raped her at the secluded location before dropping her at her house.

The victim had filed a police complaint on April 30 and the accused was caught on May 2 from Jaipur in Rajasthan. Currently, Patel has been remanded to judicial custody on Saturday.

“Our aim is to make a watertight case against the accused so that he is not able to deny the sequence of events,” Vala told The Indian Express. He said Patel is an influential local leader, who has 18 other cases against him, including multiple prohibition cases for bootlegging.

Vadodara Superintendent of Police Sudhir Desai said, “We are asking them (the RTO) specifically for two aspects that are critical to support the complainant’s version. One is the central locking system that can be operated only on the driver’s side and the second is the pushback of the front seat to create leg space for the accused to move over the victim. Once the two aspects are answered, we will present the case during the arguments in the trial.”

Vadodara district government pleader, Advocate Anil Desai, said the knowledge of “experts” in pursuance of an investigation by the police can often be treated as evidence. “It is the first time that I have come across a rape case, where the police have asked the RTO to provide a certificate on the technical specifications of the car. Generally, the police do turn to experts — even private agencies — to gather the knowledge that can help in the investigation. If any such certificate is issued by some competent authority, that is a government agency, then automatically more value attached to it and the same can be produced as evidence. The police could have well asked the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) to do the same but even the RTO, if it is under its ambit of work, can provide a certificate to the police in pursuance of the probe.”

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