A month after Vadodara police booked six police personnel for allegedly killing a Telangana man while in custody at the Fatehgunj police station, the Gujarat High Court has ordered that the case be transferred to the State Crime Investigation Department (CID).
The victim, Babu Sheikh Nisar (65), had reportedly gone missing on December 10, 2019, after he was apprehended by policemen on suspicion of theft.
While the six policemen are, according to the Vadodara police, absconding, one of them — Police Inspector DB Gohil – has filed a petition before the high court, seeking to quash the FIR against them on the grounds that the police is yet to ascertain if the said victim is “indeed dead”.
Gohil has filed the petition through his advocate Prashant Khandheria on July 29 — it was revised to correct a technical error and re-filed on August 4.
Khandheria said, “There are only two grounds on which we have filed the petition. The first one is that the Vadodara police has not recovered the body or any material evidence related to the body of the missing person to conclude that he is indeed dead… In order to decide intentional killing, one has to examine the wounds inflicted on the body of the deceased. So, where is the body?”
Khandheria added that the police officer, who was the station incharge in December 2019, has also contended that Nisar was a “habitual offender”, who had cases of theft and other crimes pending against him in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Telangana.
“The Vadodara police hurriedly pronounced this as a case of custodial killing. They have not checked with any other state police departments if the man is in their custody… The FIR is also damaging to the career of my client, whose conduct was not questionable for over seven months after the incident. There is no eye witness to confirm that the man has been killed either,” Khandheria said.
In an earlier court order that had recorded submissions made in a police report, it was stated that when the Vadodara police specifically called for details from central and districts jails of Maharashtra, Telangana and Rajasthan with regard to criminal antecedents, nothing was found.
The advocate added that Gohil –who is the sixth accused in the FIR– has sought protection to “help the investigation”. Khandheria said, “He wants to cooperate in the investigation and has sought protection as he is not the prime accused in the FIR.”
Khandheria said that the court is likely to hear the petition for admission next week.
The Vadodara police, which had launched a manhunt for the accused — police inspector DB Gohil, police sub-inspector DM Rabari and Lok Rakshak Dal jawans Pankaj Mavjibhai, Yogendra Jilansinh, Rajiv Savjibhai and Hitesh Shambubhai – will hand over the case to the State CID.
Investigating Officer ACP Bakul Chaudhary said, “The high court has directed that the case should be handed over to a third investigating agency, based on the petition of the (victim’s) family. We will hand over the case soon.”
Chaudhary added that the police had prepared a list of properties owned by the officers which could be attached as per the procedure if they do not surrender before the court or the police. But investigators admit that the hopes of recovering the body of the victim are slim as the perpetrators are policemen themselves. “But our teams have already visited many parts of the state to look for them, without success,” Chaudhary added.
The division bench of Justices Sonia Gokani and NV Anjaria, during a hearing on Wednesday, has also directed that the investigation must be carried out by an officer of the rank of Superintendent of Police and be supervised by an officer of the rank of Deputy Inspector General. Both investigating officers will be selected by Director General of Police Ashish Bhatia, the court said.
The court also remarked that the mere act of the Vadodara police agreeing to add IPC Section 302 (culpable homicide amounting to murder) upon the court’s insistence, is “not sufficient discharge of duty” by the said investigating officer.
Public prosecutor Mitesh Amin, during the hearing, had sought for more time on behalf of Vadodara police “to reach the truth,” and had claimed ignorance on Gohil’s petition, earning the high court’s ire of “a likelihood of the evidence destroyed”.
The court observed, “The court cannot be oblivious of the fact that it is dealing with those persons who themselves are the veterans of the field of investigation and may also have mastered the art of overreacting the process and who, till date, are not available to face the process of law, already initiated against them pursuant to the detailed directions issued by this court. There are shocking details emerging as to how for days and months, no clue is received of a missing person about whom inquiries were made incessantly.”
A senior police officer said, “Gohil feels he can get his way with this petition. He conveniently forgets that the officers have destroyed evidence and created a false entry in the station record showing that they released the victim. In that case, they should be able to produce him in court in the habeas corpus petition filed by his family.”
Advocate K I Kazi, who is representing Nisar’s son, Salim, in the habeas corpus petition, had requested the court in July to transfer the investigation to an independent agency.
Kazi has also pointed out that Gohil’s petition “speaks of the volume of connivance” of the accused with the present investigating officers.
Vadodara police is relying on the statement of Assistant Head Constable Shaktisinh, who has said that he saw Nisar tied to a chair while the accused tortured him to extract a confession of the theft. Shaktisinh has said that he saw the accused inserting a pen between Nisar’s fingers until he bled and “his voice faded away” and he “did not appear that he could be alive”, the FIR states.
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