The Mumbai Police, in its reply to a contempt petition filed against the reinstatement of its four personnel facing trial for the alleged custodial death of Khwaja Yunus (27), told the Bombay High Court earlier this week that no disciplinary inquiry has been conducted against them since 2004, as they were already facing criminal prosecution.
The reply also stated that the four policemen were directed to resume duty last month “in view of the peculiar circumstances”, including the Covid-19 pandemic, due to which many policemen were getting infected. The decision to reinstate the men — Assistant Inspector Sachin Vaze and constables Rajendra Tiwari, Sunil Desai and Rajaram Nikam — were taken by a suspension review committee headed by the commissioner of police on June 5.
The petition filed by Asiya Begam, Yunus’ mother, had said that by reinstating the four accused last month, the police had violated a 2004 Bombay High Court order that had directed the state to suspend them and initiate a disciplinary inquiry.
The reply filed through Nawal Bajaj, Joint Commissioner of Police (Administration), said that in 2006, then additional commissioner of police (Crime) had prepared a detailed note on the disciplinary inquiry.
Taking into account that the state CID was investigating the case, the note stated: “Now, when proper investigation into the matter concerning the escape/suspected death of the arrested accused (Yunus) is underway, there is no point in conducting any inquiry… such inquiry will contravene the legal provisions and hence, will be ultra vires in my opinion.”
It further recommended that the police should wait for directions/suggestions from either the court or the state CID and then take necessary action on their report. The note was approved by then commissioner of police and he had decided not to conduct the disciplinary proceedings since they were facing criminal prosecution on the same charges, the reply by Bajaj said.
The reply added that the decision to reinstate the men was also taken based on a rule in the departmental inquiry manual, as per which, it would be “practical” to wait for the final outcome of the criminal case. A 2011 state government circular was also relied upon, which stated that depending on the facts and circumstances of the case, if a case is pending even after two years of a chargesheet being filed, the suspension can be ended after a recommendation by the review committee. The reply stated that the four men were in “continuous suspension for the last 16 years” since 2004. The trial in the case is still pending with only one witness having deposed so far.
The reply added that the review committee had decided to reinstate 18 policemen, including the four, after considering the “vital” issue of policemen getting infected by Covid-19. It was recommended that they be posted in a non-executive branch.
Yunus, an engineer who worked in Dubai, was arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act on December 25, 2002 along with three others. Police had alleged that they were involved in a bomb blast in Ghatkopar on December 2. The four men were interrogated and Yunus was last seen on January 6, 2003 by the other three. The three arrested with Yunus were subsequently acquitted by the special court, which found no evidence against them.
According to police, a team led by Vaze was travelling with Yunus to Aurangabad between January 6 and 7, 2003, when he escaped, as their jeep fell into a gorge. The state CID took over the probe following a HC order and concluded that Vaze had filed a “false and malicious” complaint against Yunus, claiming that he had escaped. He and the three constables are facing charges, including murder and destruction of evidence.
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