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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Probe finds calls between Sena leader Sanjay Rathod, woman who died by suicide

Pooja jumped off a building in Pune early on February 7. Sanjay Rathod, the three-time Shiv Sena MLA from Digras in Yavatmal district, resigned as Maharashtra forest minister on February 28.

Written by Mohamed Thaver | Mumbai |
Updated: August 2, 2021 11:45:06 am
Sanjay Rathod resigned as minister on February 28. (File Photo)

Pune Police investigating the suicide of 22-year-old Pooja Chavan are learned to have found the recordings of “several calls” between her and a man purported to be former Maharashtra minister Sanjay Rathod in the “four-five days” before her death.

Among the recordings of these conversations in Pooja’s mobile phone is one that lasted 90 minutes, sources said.

Pooja jumped off a building in Pune early on February 7. Rathod, the three-time Shiv Sena MLA from Digras in Yavatmal district, resigned as Maharashtra forest minister on February 28.

“Prima facie based on the evidence retrieved from the phone, the person talking to her (Pooja) appears to be Rathod. She had recorded all their conversations. The conversations took place in the Banjara language so we are getting a translation done,” a police source told The Indian Express.

Pooja was from the same tribal Banjara community to which Rathod belongs. Pooja belonged to Beed and was reportedly living in Pune, where she had enrolled in an educational course. Soon after Pooja’s death, there were allegations that she was in a relationship with the MLA.

Sources said that Pooja’s mobile phone, which contains the recordings of her purported conversations with Rathod, had been sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) in Pune for retrieval of its data.

A second purported piece of evidence too was sent to the lab – CCTV footage from the premises of Yavatmal Medical College hospital, captured before dawn on February 6, approximately 24 hours before Pooja killed herself in Pune.

According to the sources, the footage contains purported images of Pooja with Arun Rathod, a close aide of Sanjay Rathod’s. Arun and another aide of Sanjay Rathod’s, Vilas Chavan, stayed with Pooja in the rented apartment in Heaven Park in Pune’s Mohammed Wadi, where she died.

Police are learnt to have received the FSL reports on Pooja’s phone and the CCTV footage from the medical college in Yavatmal last month. But they are yet to ask the lab to test the voice in the recordings against the former minister’s voice samples. Police have also received confirmation that the CCTV footage is genuine, the sources said.

Reached for a comment on Sunday evening, Sanjay Rathod told The Indian Express that he would not like to say anything at this stage.

Pooja, who intially sought a career in modelling, was popular on social media, in particular on the video-sharing platform TikTok. Her videos had a large following among girls in the Banjara community, and especially in her hometown Beed. TikTok is among the China-linked apps that were banned by India in June last year following the tensions in Ladakh.

Following Pooja’s death, the Yavatmal hospital had issued a statement saying one “Pooja Arun Rathod” had been admitted there at 4.34 am on February 6, and had undergone an abortion.

The opposition had alleged at the time that this woman was none other than Pooja Chavan, who had jumped off the Pune building early the following day. Her name had been mentioned as “Pooja Arun Rathod” in the hospital records because she had been accompanied to the hospital by Arun Rathod, the opposition had said.

Pune Police had detained and questioned Arun Rathod after Pooja’s suicide, and had also examined his phone. They had filed an accidental death report (ADR) in the matter.

Due to her popularity, Pooja was known to Pankaja Munde, the BJP leader from Beed. Following her death, Munde had tweeted demanding an investigation.

Maharashtra Leader of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis and his BJP colleague Chitra Wagh had gone on the offensive against the Maha Vikas Aghadi government, and demanded an FIR against Sanjay Rathod.

Fadnavis had written to the state DGP alleging that the Pune Police were investigating the case only superficially. Fadnavis had sent 12 audio clips to the DGP, most of which were believed to contain purported phone conversations between Sanjay Rathod and Arun Rathod, and one between Sanjay Rathod and Pooja.

Most of the purported conversations between Sanjay Rathod and Arun, which were leaked, were about a woman who had agreed to undergo “treatment”, but was apparently suicidal. In one of the leaked conversations, a male voice could be heard telling another that he was under enormous stress, and unless “she understands”, he might have no option “but to give my life”.

Some of the leaked conversations appeared to have taken place after Pooja’s death on February 8. In one conversation that appears to have taken place perhaps minutes or hours after her death, one of the men is heard telling the other: “Do you have her mobile…get her mobile quickly.” When the other man says the door is locked, the first man says, “Break open the door. Take the help of Vilas and quickly get the mobile phone.”

Sources said the Pune Police have not sent either these audio files or Arun Rathod’s phone to FSL to confirm the identities of the individuals heard in the conversations.

Asked if the voice samples had been sent for testing, Pune Police Commissioner Amitabh Gupta said, “I cannot give you details of an ongoing investigation. Whatever was needed to aid the investigation has been done.”

Sanjay Rathod said: “I do not want to comment on anything at this stage. The police are conducting their investigation in the matter, and I will only speak once their probe is complete.”

Earlier this month, police recorded the statements of Pooja’s parents. They have said that they have no complaints against anyone.

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