2019 Custodial death: 3 weeks after FIR, no trace of accused cops

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Even as about four teams of the Vadodara police are chasing the six accused, officers said that being policemen themselves, the accused are aware of the standard search procedures, making the hunt difficult. (Representational)

Almost three weeks since the six accused police personnel were booked for allegedly killing a Telangana man while in custody at the Fatehgunj police station in December last year and disposing his body and destroying evidence, the Vadodara police are grappling for clues to ascertain their whereabouts.

The police have launched a manhunt for the accused but investigators admit that the hopes of recovering the body of the victim are slim as the perpetrators are policemen themselves.

Assistant Commissioner of Police, ‘E’ Division, Vadodara City, S G Patil, who is the complainant in the FIR lodged on July 6 against the six accused — police inspector DB Gohil, police sub-inspector DM Rabari and Lok Rakshak Dal jawans Pankaj Mavjibhai, Yogendra Jilansinh, Rajiv Savjibhai and Hitesh Shambubhai – said that with the facts now clear through the probe, the police are only tasked with arresting the accused and recovering the body of the victim —which may never happen.

Patil said, “The accused are very confident that the case against them will not be strong because they have disposed of the body. With almost eight months gone, we do not have much hope of recovering the body too. The personnel feel that it will give them an advantage as the body of the deceased is clinching evidence and its absence can weaken a case. In our system of law, it is upon the prosecution to prove the case against the accused. But because these accused are policemen themselves, the burden of proving their claim will also lie on them as per the provisions of the Evidence Act.”

Even as about four teams of the Vadodara police are chasing the six accused, officers said that being policemen themselves, the accused are aware of the standard search procedures, making the hunt difficult.

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Investigating Officer (IO) ACP Bakul Chaudhary said that the accused have gone underground and are avoiding being tracked through their mobile location. “They are aware of the way the police begin a manhunt. So it is natural that they will not use the mobile phone and SIM cards they had been using so far. Also, communicating through networks like WhatsApp cannot be tracked. So, we are yet to get any breakthrough. The Vadodara Crime Branch, Special Operations Group and other teams are out to find them.”

The victim, Babu Sheikh Nisar (65), a native of Telangana, had reportedly gone missing on December 10, 2019, after he was apprehended by policemen on suspicion of theft from Fulwadi area of the city. The alleged case of theft also never made it to the police records, the probe has revealed. While the accused had called in Satish Thakkar —a resident of Chhani, who reported the theft attempt at his home— to record his complaint, the accused destroyed the signed document as well as the soft copy to “cover up” their act.

The police have so far recorded statements of seven witnesses, who claim to have seen Nisar inside the Fatehgunj police station that day.

IO Chaudhary said, “They told him they will give him a copy once they upload the soft copy on the website as per the practice. But we know that they have destroyed that copy which Thakkar had signed as well as the soft copy as there is no entry of the FIR. It could be because probably by the time, Nisar was dead from the torture and they were in a hurry to make the ‘B’ row entry in the physical station diary to state that they had let him (Nisar) go.”

The Thakkar brothers, who are witnesses, Chaudhary said, were unaware about the identity of the thief who broke into their house and did not identify Nisar.

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In his statement, Assistant Head Constable Shaktisinh, has said that he saw Nisar tied to a chair with a belt and rope to “restrict his movement” while the six 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.

The police, on July 13, have also recovered a car of Head Constable Mahesh Rathwa, which was allegedly used by the accused to dispose of Nisar’s body. Rathwa, who has been turned key witness in the case, has not been booked in the case as he was “unaware that his car was being used” to dispose of Nisar’s dead body, Chaudhary said. “We are awaiting the report of the forensic analysis of the car,” Chaudhary said.

Meanwhile, Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Crime Branch, Jaydeepsinh Jadeja said the teams have fanned out to different parts of the state to keep watch on the close associates and family members of the six accused policemen.

On Tuesday, the police had revised the IPC section 304 (Punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder) to Section 302 (Cuplable homicide amounting to murder) after the Gujarat High Court raised questions about the exclusion of the murder charges. The accused have been additionally booked under 201 (Causing disappearance of evidence of offence), 203 (Giving false information respecting an offence committed), 204 (Destruction of a document or electronic record to prevent its production as evidence) and 34 (Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention).

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