A month later...Goof-ups ensure stalemate in Bhandara murders probe

A month after three little girls were found dumped in a well inLakhani village of Bhandara district, cops have made negligible progress in getting to the bottom of the crime which has drawn cries of concern at the national and even global level. The focus, however, is more on the utterly blighted probe, which has ensured a stalemate of unanswered questions.

MiD DAY exhaustively covered the case of the three siblings, the investigation goof-ups that followed, and the subsequent developments, in a series of reports starting February 28.  The police suffered its first setback when the regional Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) in Nagpur ruled out any presence of male DNA in the vaginal swabs or on the clothes of the victims, earlier thought to have been raped.

Death trap: The well in Lakhani village of Bhandara district where bodies of  three little girls were found. File Pic

After a forensic panel comprising Dr Harish Phatak of KEM Hospital, Dr S D Nanandkar of Grant Medical College and Dr T D Dogra, former director of AIIMS, ruled out any sexual assault, and raised serious concerns on the findings of post-mortems done at Bhandara General Hospital, the local cops and the facility drew flak from lawyers and senior police officers.

IPS officer-turned-lawyer Y P Singh said, “The entire case has been botched up by the doctors who conducted the post-mortems and by the local police. The inquest should have been ready within an hour of the bodies being removed from the well. There was no reason for the police to wait for nearly 17 hours after the bodies were found to prepare the inquest.”

“Had the police been a bit sensitive and taken a second opinion from forensic experts before registering the offence, human rights of suspects who were unnecessarily subjected to humiliation and agony would not have been compromised. The event merits a detailed probe against the doctors who did the first post-mortems, which led to this muddle,” said Singh.

A senior police officer working closely on the case said, “The team of policemen working on this case was putting in its best efforts to solve the case on the basis of the post-mortem reports from Bhandara General hospital. But when the forensic experts ruled out sexual assault or rape, all the efforts went down the drain.”

Special IG (Nagpur Range) Rajendra Singh said, “We had made some headway while probing the rape and murder angles, but we reached a dead-end while corroborating the facts from suspects. Now that forensic experts have ruled out sexual assault, we’ve focused our probe on to a particular direction and are working on it.”

Aarti Singh, superintendent of police, Bhandara, said, “Initially our suspects were men, as we were told that it was a case of rape and murder. But now, some females are under suspicion and we are questioning everyone likely to have any clue in this case.”

Maharashtra Director General of Police Sanjeev Dayal, said, “It is the civil surgeon of the district who takes a call as to who does the post-mortem (hospital doctors or forensic experts). There are facilities in every rural hospital and the police take the body to the nearest the post-mortem centre. In this case, the civil surgeon insisted that the post-mortems be done at Bhandara General Hospital. It was on the basis of the medical report by the doctors who did the post-mortems that we registered the case of rape and murder.

“But when even after repeated attempts we were not able to come across any lead, especially from such a small place, we decided to go back to basics and approached the forensics experts, who clearly stated that the deaths were due to drowning. They said they have not merely taken into consideration the diatom test but could even justify the same by showing the impacts on internal organs. They also ruled out sexual assault. We are now refocusing our probe accordingly.

Questions that need to be asked of the Bhandara police
>> Why was there delay in registering ‘missing’ complaints? Why were the bodies sent to Bhandara General Hospital instead of Government Medical College, Nagpur which is only 60 km from Bhandara
>> Why did the police not arrange for the inquest when the bodies were brought in at 8 pm on February 16 to Bhandara General Hospital?
>> Why did the police not furnish the inquest at 11.00 pm on February 16 as promised initially?
>> Why was it not sent on February 17, 7.00 am as promised to the doctors waiting to conduct post-mortems?
>> Why did it reach after 12.55 pm on February 17?
>> Why was a non-forensic team of doctors taken to inspect the scene of crime?
>> Why did the police not demand that the bodies be preserved in cold storage of the mortuary to prevent decomposition?
>> Why did the police not take a second opinion from forensic doctors at Nagpur Medical College before registering the case?
>> Why did the police not call in forensic experts from Mumbai and Delhi to study the crime scene, even a week after submitting a report stating that the victims were not raped?

Discrepancies in post-mortems performed by doctors at Bhandara General Hospital
>> The civil surgeon at the hospital is not qualified to tackle medico-legal cases as he is a radiologist and has admitted to having no knowledge of forensic medicine
>> He informed the police that if the bodies were left in the open, doctors would be in a better position to ascertain the exact time of death. But the time of death could have been established precisely when the bodies were removed from the well
>> He failed to use his power to transfer the case or call in forensic experts for autopsy, in a sensitive case
>> He failed to preserve the bodies in cold storage even though cabinets in the morgue were vacant
>> Though he wasn’t present at the post-mortem centre, he allowed his name to be mentioned in the panel of doctors present and even signed the post-mortem notes
>> Why did the doctors who conducted the post-mortems not consult forensic experts before submitting the final report; they also failed to establish the precise time and cause of the deaths        

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