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Questions over engineer’s death

Bihar PWD engineer Yogendra Pandey who,according to the Sitamarhi police,committed suicide on Thursday...

Written by Santosh Singh | Patna |
June 22, 2009 1:26:48 am

Bihar PWD engineer Yogendra Pandey who,according to the Sitamarhi police,committed suicide on Thursday,was disliked by powerful local contractors for his “uncompromising” insistence on quality work. Earlier this month,the engineer had been allegedly assaulted at home by a contractor whose payment he had stopped and whose firm he had blacklisted.

The contractor was arrested but bailed,apparently because of his “legal connections”. Pandey had also slapped a hefty fine on another contractor recently,and had intended to cancel the contract of a third for shoddy work.

The reports of a second post mortem on Pandey’s body and forensic examination of the site — ordered after Chief Minister Nitish Kumar intervened — are awaited. Sources have,however,told The Indian Express that the reports disagree with the theory of suicide.

A senior doctor at the Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH) where the second autopsy was carried out,said: “Pandey had an injury on his head. But his face,which would have got mangled after a 45-foot fall,had no injury. Also,a fall from that height would result in the breaking of at least five bones,but all he broke was one arm. The body bore signs of strangulation.”

According to the doctor,Pandey was in all probability thrown from a lower height after he had been killed.

The four-member forensic team led by Aditya Paswan of the Patna forensic lab is sceptical as well.

“The third floor roof of the Collectorate from where Pandey allegedly jumped has low,two-and-a-half-feet high railings plastered with coal tar,” said a member of the team. “Tests show that if someone stands at the railing,the tar comes off. But this did not happen. Besides,the body did not fall at the spot it should have fallen if Pandey had jumped off the roof.”

The forensic team visited Sitamarhi after Pandey’s family and the Bihar Engineering Services Association (BESA) expressed outrage and the chief minister ordered a probe by the I-G of Police.

According to the Sitamarhi police,Pandey,a resident of IAS Colony,Danapur,jumped to his death at 10.34 am on June 18 from the third floor roof of the district Collectorate. Sitamrahi district Superintendent of Police Chhatranil Singh said the first autopsy,carried out in Sitamarhi,showed Pandey had committed suicide,and that “many people” had seen him fall.

“We have not yet converted the case from suicide to murder. We are waiting for the report of the second post mortem and the forensic reports on the case,” the SP told The Indian Express.

There are suspicions,however,that the engineer,known to be an upright man,might have been killed by vested interests in the immensely lucrative and corrupt road construction business in Bihar.

The Indian Express has found that on June 6,Pandey cancelled the contract of one Kishore Singh,after his company,Vats Construction,failed to complete the construction of the 40-km Sitamarhi-Riga Dengh state highway by the deadline of May 30. He also blacklisted the company.

An official in Pandey’s office said,“Kishore Singh had been demanding full payment of Rs 12 crore even though he had completed only half the work. Accordingly,we paid him only Rs 6 crore.”

That evening,Kishore Singh and his henchmen allegedly thrashed Pandey at his home. A case was registered,but Singh got bail on June 8. Lawyers of Sitamarhi court,led by Ajit Kumar,have alleged the bail came despite the court having closed several hours before Singh filed his plea,and have written to the Patna HC seeking a probe into the circumstances of the bail.

SP Chhatranil Singh said that the “contractor seems to have used his big legal connections to get bail”. Sources in Pandey’s office said Pandey had asked for,but not got,police protection.

Pandey,according to these officials,was “completely uncompromising” on the quality of work and compliance with deadlines,and would release no payments without inspecting and measuring the length of the road.

They said he had recently slapped a Rs-6 lakh fine on a contractor named Madhur Tiwari,and had planned to cancel a Rs-22 crore contract given to one Rajendra Singh and Brothers for constructing the road between Runi Saidpur and Pipri. The company had apparently completed only half the work,which was of poor quality.

“Pandey was a tough taskmaster and had blown the whistle on tardy work and shady contractors. This earned him the ire of these contractors,” said a PWD staffer.

Chief Minister Kumar has,meanwhile,said DMs and SPs are duty-bound to ensure security for engineers of the road construction department.

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