Ten days after the State Crime Investigation Department (CID) carried out the first search for the body of an alleged custodial death victim in the Narmada main canal that passes through Vadodara, the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL) will again shut water supply to the canal for 24 hours from Monday midnight to facilitate a second search operation on Tuesday.
Babu Sheikh Nisar, the 65-year-old migrant from Telangana, was allegedly killed in custody at the Fatehgunj police station in Vadodara on December 10, 2019. On Sunday, teams of the CID, which is investigating the case, visited seven villages on the banks of the Mahisagar river in Vadodara taluka, seeking leads from the villagers on the alleged disposal of Nisar’s body on the intervening night of December 10 and 11, 2019.
The CID is inquiring into the statement given by Mahesh Rathwa, head constable of Fatehgunj police station, whose hatchback car was one of the multiple vehicles allegedly used by the accused to dispose of the body.
Rathwa, in his statement, said that one of the accused — constable Pankaj — had told him that the accused “carried petrol and wood to burn the body” of Nisar in Rathwa’s car and drove to the banks of Mahisagar river around 3 am on December 11, 2019.
The CID visit to the villages comes after Nisar’s son Salim raised questions about police “ignoring” the statement given by Rathwa. Salim, through his advocate, drew the attention of the Gujarat High Court to Rathwa’s statement indicating that his father’s body was “surreptitiously burnt”, during a hearing before the division bench on October 23, after the CID first drained the Narmada main canal and searched for Nisar’s body in Vadodara.
On October 27, the Indian Express reported Rathwa’s statement from the police case diary and Salim’s contention against the ongoing investigation.
While CID Superintendent of Police Girish Pandya did not respond to questions from this newspaper, another officer of the department said on condition of anonymity, “We are carrying out a search for the body in the canal on November 3… The search teams had faced hurdles during the previous search on October 20 due to the presence of excessive garbage. This time, we are ensuring that it will be cleared before the search begins.”
Officials of the Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC) confirmed that SSNNL would cut off water supply to the canal for 24 hours to facilitate the search on Tuesday. VMC additional city engineer (water works) and executive engineer (water supply), Amrut Makwana, said, “Water supply will be affected in the city on Tuesday and Wednesday due to the draining of the main canal. The police has requested the SSNNL, which consulted with the VMC and we have consented to 24 hours of closure of water supply… More than 5 lakh citizens of the West and South zones of the city depend on the water from this canal.”
The SSNNL provides 75 million litres per day (MLD) water to the city through the main canal, which passes through the VMC’s water filtration plant in Khanpur. The canal, which passes through Vadodara city from Chhani to Sevasi, is a major water source to West and South zones of the city, including Gotri, Harinagar, Vasna, Tandalja, Subhanpura, Akota, Atladara, Kalali, Vadsar and Manjalpur.
On October 20, a team of around 100 personnel from varous departments — police, administration, fire and forensics — covered about 3.5 kilometres of the earmarked seven kilometres of the canal for over 10 hours but could recover only two animal skeletons.
According CID officials, technical inputs as well as human intelligence prompted the search operation. Six accused police officers — inspector DB Gohil, sub-inspector DM Rabari, and Lok Rakshak Dal jawans Pankaj Mavjibhai, Yogendra Jilansinh, Rajiv Savjibhai and Hitesh Shambubhai were “non-cooperative” during their seven-day remand with the CID, after they surrendered on September 2.
Nisar, who arrived in Vadodara on December 10, 2019, accompanied by his son-in-law to sell bedsheets, allegedly went missing after officers of Fatehgunj police station apprehended him for a suspected theft in Chhani area. The six accused policemen said that they had let Nisar go after questioning. An FIR was filed by the Vadodara police in July this year, relying on the statement of assistant head constable Shaktisinh who said that he saw Nisar tied to a chair with a belt and rope in the computer room of the police station even as the six accused tortured him to extract a “confession” of the theft.
Earlier this year, Nisar’s son Salim submitted an application to the Commissioner of Police, Vadodara city, alleging foul play. The Vadodara police investigation did not lead to any conclusion. On June 20, the family filed a habeas corpus petition in the Gujarat High Court. On June 25, both the investigations were merged and handed over to Vadodara E Division. On August 6, the Gujarat HC directed the probe to be transferred to the state CID.