It has been over a month-and-a-half since the search for the alleged body of assistant police inspector Ashwini Bidre in the Vasai creek has been intensified, but police are yet to come closer to finding anything substantial. According to sources, the Navi Mumbai police have spent close to Rs 2 lakh per day, for around 10 days, on the search that experts believe, would yield little to no result.
“The Vasai creek gets flushed every year in the monsoon. It’s both a boon and a bane for the residents of Mumbai. We can dump all our waste and pollutants, and after the monsoon, the creek is as good as new,” said Vinay Deshmukh, retired principal scientist from the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute. He added: “It is possible that the boxes in which the alleged body was dumped are somewhere in the sea, untraceable.”
Deshmukh, also claimed that the creek is full of crabs, fishes and other scavengers. “If the body is not in an air-tight container, it is probably being preyed upon by the scavengers. Given that a long time has passed, I don’t think the police or any search agencies will be able to find anything,” he said.
“There are sophisticated equipment to conduct underwater searches, as in case of submerged planes and sunken ships. But those are for oceans and I am not sure if they will work in the creek. I don’t think we have such machines here. Finding something after two years is almost impossible,” said Deshmukh.
Rakesh, a scientist from the National Institute of Oceanography, had similar views. “The Vasai creek is severely polluted with chemical waste from Ambernath, Ulhasnagar and other industrial regions being dumped in it. Solid waste from nearby regions are also thrown in the creek, which results in several layers of sediments being formed, almost annually. By now, if there was a box, it could probably be under two-three layers of the bed-soil deposit in the creek. To find it is extremely hard,” he said.
The Navi Mumbai police started searching the Vasai creek after Mahesh Phalnikar, a co-accused alongside inspector Abhay Kurundkar, the main accused in the case, allegedly told the police in March that Bidre’s dismembered body was put in two iron trunks and thrown into the creek; a statement he later retracted. Phalnikar had allegedly told the police that Kurundkar killed Bidre, who has been missing since 2016, and had called him for help to dispose off the body, stuffed inside two iron boxes.
“The daily cost of the machines like gradiometers and other sensors, and the team of private experts mapping the 4-km long stretch that flows endlessly into the sea was around Rs 2 lakh. The team spent close to a fortnight looking for the iron boxes that Kurundkar allegedly threw in the water,” said a senior officer.
According to senior officers, the search will continue, as they are reaching out to other experts. “A murder case can be proven if the body of the victim or some parts of it is recovered. Of course, we are racing against the time, but we are trying to find anything that can substantiate that the murder happened,” said an officer privy to the case.
Legal experts believe that in the absence of the body or the murder weapon, there is not much to build a case upon. “In case the body is not found in a murder case, the prosecution can build a case on multiple things like murder weapons, CCTV footage that the victim was last seen with the accused, etc. Without a murder weapon or a body, as in the case of Bidre, I believe there is little to nothing for the prosecution to build a case,” said Shyam Keswani, senior criminal lawyer. “To prove that she was indeed murdered and has not gone away, police will have to do a lot of work,” he added.
Former IPS officer and lawyer Y P Singh, however, believes that it is not impossible to bring the case to a conviction. “Even in absence of body, it is not impossible to prove the case. There are precedents. But, the police will have to find very strong evidence. They can still look for the toll naka CCTV footage, someone who saw something, and build the case from there. The body may or may not be found, but with strenuous work, they can prove that Bidre was murdered,” said Singh.
According to Kurundkar’s lawyer Vishal Bhanushali, the police have nothing to build a case. “They only have a CDR copy, even that doesn’t prove that my client was with Ashwini Bidre. My client is innocent and it will be proven in the court,” he said.
Meanwhile, Bidre’s husband Raju Gore said he spends every morning, going through various newspapers and messages. “I hope everyday for a breakthrough. I really want the police to find some evidence, something that could tell us what happened to her,” he said.
“My daughter who should have never been exposed to this, asks me about her mother. I don’t want her childhood to be ruined. We have nothing else on our minds. Even her (Bidre’s) poor ailing father is fed up. All of this could have been avoided if the police took swift action. They have botched up the investigation,” Gore added.