Over eight months after the alleged death of Sion resident Vijay Singh in the custody of the Mumbai Police, five policemen who were suspended in the aftermath of protests against the incident were reinstated in May pending inquiry, even as a Crime Branch probe is underway.
They were reinstated on the ground that with several policemen testing positive for Covid-19 at Wadala Truck Terminal (TT) police station – where the alleged incident had taken place last October – there was a need to have maximum manpower available for duty.
Additional Commissioner of Police (Central Region) Viresh Prabhu said, “When we were at the height of Covid-19 infection at Wadala TT police station, we decided that all personnel should be on duty. By then, these five policemen had been on suspension for more than six months. There is a Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal ruling stating that one cannot keep policemen on suspension for long pending inquiry. Based on that order, we decided to reinstate them in light of the Covid-19 situation.”
He added that once the Crime Branch probe is completed, they will recommend if and what action should be taken against the five men.
The five policemen who were reinstated are PSI Sandeep Kadam (station house officer), API Saleem Khan (first relief officer), head constable Gangaram Bhabal, police naik Ramnik Chaure and constable Dhondiba Chole.
Vijay had died at the Wadala TT police station on October 27. According to the police, he, alongwith his two friends, were taken to the police station following their tiff with a couple near his residence when he was parking his motorcycle at night. Vijay was kept in the lock-up for some time, following which he complained of chest pain. He went on to collapse at the police station and was rushed to Sion hospital, where he was declared brought dead.
After his family members alleged that Vijay died due to police torture, the five policemen who were present at the police station were suspended and the Crime Branch was asked to investigate the matter. The Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission, too, had taken suo motu cognizance of the case and is hearing the matter.
Following a delay in the Crime Branch probe, the family approached the Bombay High Court. Unhappy with the police probe, the family, in a writ petition, sought an FIR be registered against the policemen and the case be handed over to CBI. Later, during the Winter Session of the state Assembly, the state government formed an SIT to probe the case.
Vijay’s family members fear that due to the Covid-19 pandemic, his death will be forgotten. Vibhay, his elder brother, said, “I don’t want my brother’s life to have gone in vain. My only motive is to ensure that no one loses his life due to police excesses.”
Vibhay’s lawyer Vinay Nair said, “The Crime Branch keeps seeking extensions and the probe is delayed. We are scared that evidence will be tampered with so that the policemen get a clean chit.”
A senior officer, who is part of the SIT conducting the inquiry, said there were no injury marks on Vijay’s body and that he was at the police station only for a few hours. Two of his friends were also present at the police station during this time.
“While the postmortem report from JJ hospital said Vijay Singh died of a heart attack, a second postmortem conducted by a team of five doctors at KEM hospital reported a different cause of death. Hence, we have asked both hospitals to submit what according to them was the exact cause of death. Once we receive the replies, we will submit the inquiry report,” the officer added.
The matter will next be heard by the HC later this month.
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