The Bombay High Court on Monday directed the Mumbai Police commissioner to set up a special investigation team (SIT) within 24 hours to probe the alleged police assault, leading to the death of a 22-year-old Juhu resident in March, and asked that the investigation be completed within a month.
Four officers of the Juhu police station have been suspended for the alleged assault of Raju Velu Devendra during lockdown enforcement.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Anuja Prabhudesai was hearing a PIL filed last month by advocate Firdause Irani — through advocates Bahraiz and Behzad Irani — seeking urgent intervention.
Relatives of Devendra had alleged that he was beaten to death by the police personnel in Nehru Nagar of Vile Parle (West). The police, however, had initially claimed that Devendra died after he was lynched by a mob who suspected him of committing a robbery. However, after perusing CCTV footage, the counsel for the police had said that there was no instance of mob assaulting Devendra. Whether he succumbed to injuries inflicted by assault by fiber lathis (used by police) is a matter that needs further investigation, the police had said.
On July 23, the Mumbai Police had informed the HC that it had identified four officers of Juhu police station, who allegedly assaulted Devendra, and also proposed a departmental inquiry against them. They have since been suspended.
On Monday, Government Pleader Purnima H Kantharia submitted that as Suhas Raikar, Assistant Commissioner of Mumbai Police (Santacruz division), had taken over the investigation on August 14, he could not make much headway and has sought time to file an updated status report.
While scrutinising the status report filed by the police on Monday, the court said that it was no different from the earlier status report. “We expressed our displeasure at the manner in which the investigation in question is being handled by Mumbai Police,” the HC said. It noted that ACP Dattatray Bhargude, who was in charge of investigation between April and July, had been on sick leave since July 29, resulting in entrustment of the investigation to ACP Raikar.
“Do you see any light at the end of the tunnel if this new officer has to take over the investigation? Why did it take 14 days to handover papers to the new investigation officer? From July 20 to August 17, nothing has been done. We are not at all impressed by the state of affairs,” the court told the Mumbai Police.
“We have no option, but to direct the commissioner of Police to constitute SIT comprising two police officers of impeccable integrity and unquestionable competence. Such officers shall be appointed within 24 hours. We hope and trust that SIT shall fairly, freely and efficiently complete the investigation and be in position to produce a report by next hearing,” it added.
It posted the matter for next hearing on September 21.
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