A 26-YEAR-OLD office attendant has lost vision in his left eye after getting hit by a pellet from an airgun fired at Azad Maidan in Mumbai.
The Azad Maidan police has registered a case under sections 336 (endangering personal safety of others) and 338 (causing grievous hurt) of the IPC against Pune-based Indian Military Training Centre, a private organisation that provides self defence and military training.
The centre had set up an air pistol firing session for students of a Churchgate college in the open ground in the heart of south Mumbai on February 16.
The police said neither was permission sought by the organisation for the session, nor would such permission have been granted had it been sought. At any time during the day, there are at least a couple of hundred people engaged in sports activities, such as cricket and football, in the Maidan. There is a constant flow of pedestrians around the Maidan or cutting across it.
“We are usually asked for permission only to hold rallies. In this case, students were practising shooting as a sport. Such a case has never come up before. But we do not give permission for shooting in open spaces,” said DCP (Zone I) Abhishek Trimukhe.
The attendant, a Kolhapur native who works for a shipping agency in Vashi, is now attempting to get financial assistance from friends and relatives to undergo a retina reattachment surgery in the hope of regaining his vision.
On February 16, he was walking on the footpath and heading towards Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus from Churchgate around noon. Inside Azad Maidan, nine female students were attempting to shoot at plastic bottles. “I was walking past the Bombay Gymkhana. Suddenly, I felt an irritation in my eyes. I thought it was because of Metro digging work until few hawkers told me that my eyes were bleeding,” he said.
Seeking to remain anonymous, he added: “My parents have started looking for prospective brides.I will not be able to get married if people in my village come to know that I have lost my vision.”
Investigating Officer Jagannath Ganage said that those at the training had hoisted a plastic sheet as barrier on a fence separating the footpath from Azad Maidan. An officer said such permissions for open firing are never given in public spaces due to threat to life. “It is usually practiced in enclosed areas,” the officer added.
The police said the firing session was being supervised by trainer Bhimrana Kalabhande, who has completed an NCC course and cleared a C certificate examination.
The police are investigating the role of Adwait Deshpande, director of the centre, who collaborated with the college for training students. His Facebook profile states he is a commando trainer and investment advisor.
In his statement to the police, Deshpande has said he had been providing training for the last 15 years in Pune. He admitted to not having taken permission from any authority before commencing the practice session.
When contacted, Deshpande said that this was the first time he had held an air pistol training session at Azad Maidan. “We train students from Class V till the final year of graduation. In this self-defence training module, there were 15 sessions. One of these was on air pistol firing,” he said.
The pellets had a range of 15 yards, and that the protective plastic sheet was erected 40 yards behind the target. “A safe distance of 40 yards was kept behind target. We don’t understand how the pellet hit the man on footpath,” Deshpande said.
The injured attendant was first rushed to St George Hospital for primary aid and then shifted to Aditya Jyot Eye hospital in Wadala, where he underwent a surgery on February 17 to remove the metal pellet lodged in his retina. “The pellet was seven to eight mm in size. It was pointed, had caused scleral tear and torn his retina,” said ophthalmologist Dr Lanin Chen. The ruptured lens had to be removed and cornea suturing was conducted. The attendant can now only make out shapes from a distance of a few metres.
Dr S Natarajan, medical director at Aditya Jyot hospital, said a second surgery is required to reattach the retina. The cost is expected to vary between Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh. “We can only hope he regains some vision, but no assurance can be given until surgery is done,” he added.
“I have not been able to work for last one month,” the attendant said. His parents have shifted from Kolhapur to look after him in his rented residence.
Ashok Pandit, president of the Maharashtra Rifle Association, said: “Basic principal for any air pistol or sports shooting is that no open air shooting must be allowed. A barrier or blocker must be installed.”
(Inputs from Shahid Judge)