Over seven years after Mohammad Qateel Mohammad Jafir Siddiqui (28), an alleged Indian Mujahideen (IM) member, was murdered inside a high-security cell of Yerawada Central Prison, two gangsters were on Wednesday acquitted by a court due to lack of evidence.
Police said the two accused, Sharad Hiraman Mohol and his aide Alok Shivaji Bhalerao, were then lodged in the same area — the Anda Cell of the prison — that held Qateel. The two, who were facing charges under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA), allegedly murdered Qateel by strangling him with a bermuda string on the morning of June 8, 2012.
The then in-charge of Anda Cell, Chandrakiran Vishwanath Tayade (42), had lodged a complaint against Mohol and Bhalerao at Yerawada police station under sections 302 (punishment for murder), 201(causing disappearance of evidence of offence, or giving false information to screen offender) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of IPC.
Murder led to scrutiny, revamp of security
The murder inside the high-security cell of Yerawada jail had raised serious question marks over the security measures inside one of India’s oldest and biggest prisons. In the following years, the jail department took several measures to beef up security in its prisons, citing the murder as a key example of lapses in the system. These steps included acquiring new firearms, metal detectors, CCTV cameras, mobile phone jammers and also putting in place a Standard Operating Procedure in cases of emergencies.
According to the prosecution, when Qateel was moving around in the open space of Anda Cell on June 8 around 9.45 am, Bhalerao asked him “how he gets sleep after killing so many people”.
Later that day, Qateel allegedly told Mohol that he was responsible for the bomb blast at Jama Masjid at Delhi and at one stadium in Bengaluru. He also allegedly said that he had attempted a bomb blast at Dagdusheth temple.
The prosecution said that Mohol and Bhalerao allegedly decided to kill Qateel to prevent him from planting a bomb at the Dagdusheth temple.
Mohol and Bhalerao then allegedly entered Qateel’s cell, where Mohol allegedly strangled Qateel with the string from a bermuda while Bhalerao held his legs. It is further alleged that Mohol and Bhalerao then burnt the string and threw the ash in the toilet inside the jail.
During the trial, the court observed that most important evidence presented by the prosecution was that of “oral extra-judicial confession made by the accused persons to prison officer Chandrakiran Tayade”. As per Tayade’s witness statement, Mohol and Bhalerao told him they murdered Siddiqui.
Defence lawyer for Mohol and Bhalerao, Prakash Suryavanshi, said, “An extra-judicial confession by Mohol, which the prosecution had based their case on, was disbelieved by the court… While the prosecution presented some circumstantial evidence, they could not show the motive to prove guilt. The prosecution’s case was that one prisoner from Anda Cell went to tell the jail official about the purported murder. But we showed that a prisoner from Anda Cell going to meet a jail officer was not possible.”
Public prosecutor Vilas Ghogare Patil said, “The State of Maharashtra will file an appeal before the honourable High Court against the order passed by the Sessions Court in Pune.”