High Court raps police for believing dowry victim died from snakebite

The Bombay High Court has hauled up the Ganeshpuri police in Thane for the shoddy investigation in an alleged dowry death case, which the in-laws of the victim passed off as death by snakebite. The incident came to light after the victim's mother Vidya (name changed) filed a complaint with the police on February 15.

In her complaint, Vidya stated that her daughter Vilasini (name changed) had married Chhagan Mhaskar in 2006. She alleged that her in-laws had killed her over dowry demands. Following the complaint Chhagan was arrested. Realising that they could be arrested, Jagan Balu Mhaskar and Sarojini, the parents-in-law, approached the High Court seeking anticipatory bail.

Justice AV Nirgude said, "When the complaint was lodged, it was necessary for the police to find out why such a delay occurred in lodging the complaint. The police papers do not show any attempt on the part of the investigating officer to find out why a delay occurred. He did not record any statement." Advocate AR Pitale, the lawyer representing the in-laws said that the Mhaskars had approached Vasant Mahadev Patil, an officer from Ganeshpuri police station. He, in turn, informed the official on-duty. Pitale added that constables were dispatched to verify Vilasini's death but no action was taken.

But the investigating officer through his advocate Assistant Public Prosecutor SV Sonawane said the death was not reported to the police station. Nirgude added, "What concerns me in this incident is the failure of the police and concerned machinery to take steps as required (by law). The victim certainly died unnaturally. It was the accused party who probably told the villagers and others that she died due to snakebite. The investigating officer did not think it necessary to record their statement. This shows the quality of investigation being done in this case."

The court has granted the in-laws bail of Rs 10,000 and ordered the local Superintendent of Police (SP) to submit a report explaining why the 'death of a victim had gone unnoticed'. The court has also directed the SP to take action against those responsible.

According to Vidya, on October 15, she had received a call informing her that Vilasini had died. Soon after, the in-laws disposed of the body without informing the police . When Vidya reached the village, she was told that her daughter died of snakebite.

What to do when cops mess up
>> Instead of an FIR, a complainant can opt to register a private complaint with the local Metropolitan Magistrate. This allows the Magistrate's court to monitor the progress of the investigation.
>>After police have filed their final report, a complainant can apply to the Magistrate to have investigations conducted.
>> A person can also approach the HC and apply to have investigations transferred to another station, the Crime Branch, the State CID or the CBI.

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