Vinod Kumar Dahiya (43), acid attack victim Preeti Rathi’s uncle and a key witness in the case, claims to have twice seen the accused Ankur Panwar — once inside the train and later running at the Bandra Terminus railway station after throwing acid on Rathi.
Rathi (24), a Delhi resident, had come to Mumbai to join INHS Asvini as a nurse. She was accompanied by her family members.
In his statement, which is a part of the 1,322-page chargesheet filed by the Mumbai police’s Crime Branch Wednesday, Dahiya states that he allegedly ran into Panwar, a 23-year old hotel employee, inside Garib Rath train at 4:30 am on May 2, 2013, while Dahiya was on his way to the toilet. “As the toilet in our bogie was occupied, I walked into another bogie and used the toilet. I saw a young man wearing a yellow cap, holding a red plastic can in his hand, standing at the door. I asked him why was he standing there and suggested he should go and sit inside,” Dahiya says in his statement. Panwar, according to Dahiya, had replied he was bored sitting inside and hence decided to spend some time at the door.
Dahiya claims that when the Rathi family, including Preeti, her father Amarsingh Rathi, Dahiya himself and two other relatives alighted from the train at Bandra Terminus railway station at 8 am on May 2, Panwar, this time with his face covered with a handkerchief, rushed towards Rathi and threw some liquid on her. In the attack, Rathi and other family persons were injured. “I along with co-passengers began chasing Panwar. At one point, Panwar turned behind to check if he was being chased. The handkerchief around his face fell. The cap fell off too. I saw his face and identified he was the same man I had spoken to a few hours ago inside the train,” Dahiya claims in his statement.
When Newsline contacted him Wednesday, Dahiya said, “I did not see the cap and handkerchief fall off his face, but it may have since he was running.” Dahiya said he confirmed Panwar’s identity at a test identity parade this year. “When I saw him again, I knew it was him. At the railway platform, I could not be sure that the attacker was the same man I bumped into in the train,” he said.
Soon after the incident, the GRP had arrested a 24-year old B. Tech student, Pawankumar Gahlon from Haryana, whose marriage proposal was turned down by Rathi. However, he was let off on bail in July. “I had told the police I was unsure about Gahlon,” said Dahiya.
The police have collated testimonies of over 90 witnesses, including a chemical dealer in Delhi and another co-passenger with whom Panwar had allegedly struck a conversation for nearly 15 minutes. According to Rohit Singh, the co- passenger, he had seen Panwar standing at the same spot as mentioned by Dahiya, but with his face covered. “The man claimed he was allergic and hence had covered his face,” Singh’s statement reads. Singh claims the description matched the masked man he had spoken to inside the train.
Chemical dealer Mukesh Bhargav (31) claims to have sold “two kgs of sulphuric acid” to Panwar, who had approached him a few days before the incident saying he was starting a new business of batteries and chargers and hence needed the acid. “I sold him the chemical after he furnished his father’s identity card. As I did not have a container, I asked Panwar to arrange for one. He got a Dabur Chyawanprash tin in which the chemical was transferred,” says Bhargav, who too identified Panwar at the time of identification parade.
The police have also recorded the testimony of Panwar’s mother in the chargesheet. A few days after his arrest, the police had taken Panwar to his house to search for some incriminating evidence. At that time, Panwar allegedly confessed to his mother. “He saw me and confessed to have thrown acid on Preeti’s face,” the mother claimed in her statement.