In a twist to the alleged custodial killing of a bedsheet vendor at Vadodara’s Fatehgunj police station in December 2019, the investigators on Monday recovered the car that was allegedly used for disposing of the body of the victim.
The car — a Maruti Suzuki Swift — belongs to head constable Mahesh Ramesh Rathwa, attached to the same police station, who was present when the six accused policemen thrashed the victim, 65-year-old Babu Nisar from Kamareddy district in Telangana, in custody.
Investigating officers of the Vadodara police say that Rathwa came forth and admitted that one of the six accused — Lok Rakshak Dal jawan Pankaj Mavjibhai — had told him that Rathwa’s car was used to dispose of Nisar’s body after he died in custody.
Investigating officer BA Chaudhary told this newspaper, “The constable came forward to share the information. He was present in the police station when the accused policemen were beating up Nisar. He even warned them not to beat him as he could die. Later, they took his car without telling him the purpose and used the vehicle to dispose of the body. We have confiscated the car now.”
Nisar, who was suspected to have committed a theft, was picked up by Fatehgunj police from Fulwadi area in Vadodara on December 10, 2019, and brought to the computer room of the police station where he was allegedly tied to a chair and tortured.
SG Patil, Additional Commissioner of Police E Division, who is heading the investigation on the directive of Vadodara police commissioner, said that although it appears that Rathwa was not aware of Nisar’s death, he is not given a clean chit yet.
Patil said, “Rathwa is a witness who we were looking for… He has witnessed the beating but he left the police station in the afternoon for an official training session. Since he is mostly a civil clothes constable, he went home to change to his uniform for the training and also returned home at the end of the training.”
Patil said that according to Rathwa, accused jawan Pankaj went to his residence that evening with instructions from accused inspector DB Gohil to send Rathwa’s new car with Pankaj to the police station.
“Pankaj made Rathwa talk to Gohil from his phone and Gohil instructed him to send his car as they wanted to conduct a raid but asked him to stay at home as he was not to join for the said operation. Rathwa complied because it is normal practice to take civilian vehicles for secret raids,” said Patil.
Rathwa was agitated when he saw his car in a shabby condition the next day with the plastic on the new seat covers torn and the car covered in dust and muck, he added. “The accused told him that they had to take the car into the interiors near a river, where it caught dust. They even had the car rinsed at a professional car wash. When he inquired about the old man (Nisar), they told him they had let him go after making an entry in the police register,” Patil said.
Four other accused — sub-inspector DM Rabari and LRD jawans Yogendra Jilansinh, Rajiv Savjibhai and Hitesh Shambubhai — are absconding.
Patil said that Rathwa was initially apprehensive about sharing the information about his car having been used but came forward to share the information when he “realised that the accused had used his car to dispose of the body”.
The police, however, are yet to trace the accused as well as Nisar’s body. Patil said, “Our teams are looking for the accused but to be honest, the body may not be found. The accused are confident that the case against them will not hold because they have disposed of the body. However, since the victim was last seen in their custody, a lot of onus lies on them to prove that they sent him back safe as they have claimed in the police dairy entry.”
Nisar’s family initially filed a missing persons complaint at the Sayajigunj police station on January 31. A month-and-a-half later, his son submitted a complaint to the Commissioner of Police, Vadodara city, alleging foul play in the disappearance of his father. Following this, a confidential inquiry was initiated under Assistant Commissioner of Police A Division, which also did not lead to any conclusions. On June 16, Nisar’s son, Shaikh Salim Shaikh Babu, filed a habeas corpus petition before the Gujarat High Court, after which the present inquiry was initiated.
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