Several disappearances reported from Shirdi since 2017 recently prompted the Bombay High Court to ask Maharashtra’s top police officer to step in, after it felt the efforts to trace the missing were not satisfactory.
According to the data placed before the court by the Shirdi police, 279 people were reported missing from Shirdi in Ahmednagar between 2017 and October 27, 2020, of whom 67 still remain untraced.
Observing that 20 people who went missing from the temple town of Shirdi in 2017 have still not been found and 20 others reported missing this year prior to the lockdown in March also remain untraced, the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court recently requested the Maharashtra director general of police (DGP) to trace the missing persons and “more importantly, unravel the mystery of the missing persons vis-a-vis a human trafficking/organ trafficking racket”.
The petition was filed by Indore resident Manoj Soni, who had come to Shirdi to visit the Saibaba temple — a hugely popular pilgrimage spot for people from varied faiths — with his family on August 10, 2017. His wife Deepti (35) went missing after they visited the temple around 6 pm and is yet to be found.
On October 26, a division bench of Justice Ravindra V Ghuge and Justice B U Debadwar had asked the Ahmednagar SP to submit a report to the court listing out their efforts to find Deepti.
Increasing footfall of devotees
On October 29, the court recorded that the additional public prosecutor (APP) placed “a bunch of papers”, running into 220 pages, before the judges. A chart submitted stated that of the 71 people reported missing from Shirdi in 2017, 51 were found and 20, including Deepti, remain untraced. While 13 of the 82 reported missing in 2018 are yet to be found, 14 of the 88 reported missing in 2019 remain untraced. In 2020, 18 of the 38 missing were found.
“We find it quite alarming that in 2017, 71 people went missing. In 2018, the numbers rose to 82. In 2019, it further rose to 88 and in 2020, in a matter of two months and three weeks, 38 people went missing,” the court observed.
The Saibaba temple has been closed to visitors since March 24.
The APP told the court that the Shirdi police had not found “any human trafficking or organ trafficking racket for which people are being kidnapped or have started disappearing”. The judges, however, said that the police “was rudely awakened from its deep slumber” after the court’s order on October 26. “In the communication dated October 27, 2020, received by the learned APP from Manoj Patil, District Superintendent of Police of Ahmednagar, it does not, even remotely, inform us as regards the progress of the investigation from the said angle,” the court added.
“Humans may lie but documents would not lie. We are not satisfied by the minimal steps taken by the Shirdi police on the special unit formed for investigation as per the directions of this court vide order dated November 22, 2019,” the court said.
“…we are convinced that the Shirdi police station has hardly taken any efforts and which indicates that the head of the Ahmednagar police department may have failed in his duties,” it observed.
While asking the Registrar (Judicial) of the Aurangabad bench to place its order of October 29 before DGP Subodh Jaiswal, the court said that it would appreciate a response to the order from the DGP at the next hearing on November 24.
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