Former journalist Jigna Vora (42) broke down inside the courtroom on Wednesday as the special CBI court pronounced the judgment of her acquittal in the case of murder of senior journalist Jyotirmoy Dey in 2011. Vora was first named as an accused in the case by the Mumbai Police and later by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), alleging she had “instigated” gangster Chhota Rajan to carry out a fatal attack on Dey. The court, while acquitting her, observed that there was “no trustworthy evidence” against her. It further said that perhaps the prosecution was also aware of the quality of evidence against her and had, hence, not addressed arguments against her with much force.
On Wednesday, Vora was the first accused to reach court, much before any of the mediapersons or lawyers. After her acquittal, Vora, told some reporters that she was happy to be proven innocent. In order to prove its case against Vora, the prosecution examined four witnesses before the court. Regarding their testimony, the court observed, “there is nothing in their evidence to suggest that the accused… Jigna Vora had instigated…Chhota Rajan to commit the murder of J Dey or that she had any other role in this offence. In fact, even in the various extrajudicial confessions made by… Rajan… he has nowhere stated that he got J Dey murdered because of the instigation by… Vora or anybody else.”
The court further observed: “Even the recovery of various mobile phones and SIM cards of Vora and the relevant CDRs fail to connect… Vora with the offence in question. Hence…Vora has to be acquitted of all the charges against her.” At the time of her arrest, Vora was working as a senior journalist with The Asian Age and wrote on the underworld and crime. While her arrest on November 25, 2011 from Ghatkopar had shocked journalists, the Mumbai police maintained that they had ‘prima facie’ evidence of her involvement. She was granted bail by the special court in July, 2017 despite being booked under sections of the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA). The court had observed that she did not have any criminal antecedents.
During her bail, Vora had maintained her innocence and submitted that she was a single mother and had to look after her son and parents. On Wednesday, even as she was asked if she wanted to return to journalism, Vora pointed to the beads she was wearing in her hand, saying she wanted to continue with that. The court records list her occupation as ‘healing meditation’. Her relatives present in court said the case had destroyed eight years of her life and she lost close family members during the trial. Paresh Vora, a cousin of Jigna, said: “Eight years of her life have been destroyed by the charges against her. We were confident that she would be acquitted. Her life had come to a halt and she will have to restart her life.” He added: “Even if the police come home to do passport verification, people start talking about it. In her case, it is worse.”
Another relative said: “Even after being released on bail, she had to visit prison authorities regularly. Those were difficult times for her and we are glad that the bad times are over.” When asked about her acquittal, officials of the Mumbai police claimed they had based their arrest on evidence available at the time. Retired Senior Inspector of Police, Ramesh Mahale, who was part of the team that investigated the case before it was transferred to the CBI, said: “If we did not have prima facie evidence against her, the CBI, which later filed a supplementary chargesheet against her would have discharged her and not named her as an accused. Infact, if there was no substance in the evidence against her, the court would not have framed charges against her and discharged her at the beginning of the trial.”
A senior officer who had investigated the case said: “ We started investigating her after we came across an interception in which Rajan is talking about Jigna in connection with the murder case. Besides that, there were also a high number of calls between her and Rajan. She said that being a journalist, covering the underworld required her to talk to various people. That is the circumstantial evidence we had against her.”
The officer added: “When we went to check her mobile phone records and computer to look for further evidence, it was all wiped out. The contents could not even be retrieved after forensic testing.” Mahale said that while there was no direct evidence against Vora, they had to rely on circumstantial evidence. “The Supreme Court in a judgment has ruled that since a conspiracy is hatched in secrecy, it is difficult to adduce direct evidence of the same and may have to be proven by circumstantial evidence. We relied on circumstantial evidence.” A CBI official said they would wait to see the court order before commenting.
Retired IPS officer Arup Patnaik, who was the Mumbai police commissioner when the murder took place, said: “There was a lot of pressure on me when the incident took place… It had been just a few months that I had taken charge as the commissioner. Then Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan had also asked for a briefing on the case. Our men worked hard and I am happy that the main accused, including the shooters and Chhota Rajan, have been convicted.”
On the acquittal of Vora, he said: “While we did not have watertight evidence against her, we felt she was an important link in how the entire conspiracy was hatched. It was after discussing the case for a length of time that we decided to charge her in the case and left it to the courts to decide on the matter.”