Barely two days after a 22-year-old woman, a photographer with a city-based magazine, was raped by five men in the deserted Shakti Mill, the least the police could have done was to guard the scene of the crime well. One would have expected Shakti Mills to appear like a fortress because it still may have crucial forensic evidences that could help send the perpetrators of the brutal rape to jail.
However, shockingly, when SUNDAY MiD DAY visited the spot, there was not a single policeman in sight. The only sign that the 17-acre land was the scene of a crime that had shaken the nation -- was a red and white ribbon tied around some trees, which ironically read ‘work in progress’. One had free access to enter the scene of the crime, walk across the area and even pick up any object from the spot.
A police van stood a few metres from the main gate of the defunct mill, with two constables sitting on a chair. They seemed to be oblivious to the fact that the mill’s walls had broken down and there were at least a dozen entry and exit points to the mill, which had been left unguarded.
On Saturday afternoon, SMD reporters visited the spot and walked into the mill unquestioned. Later, when contacted, both forensic experts and senior criminal lawyers said such crime scenes should not be left unguarded at any cost, especially when the accused are still at large.
A forensic expert pointed out that the male colleague of the victim, who was overpowered and tied to a tree by the accused, led the police to the spot. “But the accused had taken the victim to another location several metres away, where she was raped. The undergarments and clothes of all the accused are yet to be collected. Also blood stains from the spot and other DNA samples, which could still be there at the spot, could become crucial evidences,” pointed out the expert.
When contacted, senior Public Prosecutor Rohini Salian said the police should have guarded the crime scene carefully. “In such sensitive cases, it is advisable that utmost care is taken to preserve the scene of the crime, especially when more than one accused are involved and are still absconding.”
Dr G V Uppe, former police surgeon and forensic expert said, “Unlike other offences where the onus is on the police to prove the case during the trial, in case of a rape, though the victim’s statement is crucial, emphasis is given to both the circumstantial and scientific evidences gathered by the police during the course of investigation. The probability of evidence at the crime scene being tampered with, even after collecting the initial evidences, cannot be ruled out, if it is left unguarded.”
However a police officer from N M Joshi Marg police station, differed from the views of the experts and said, “The spot was being guarded till the time of the panchnama and gathering of evidence by the forensic team. Now that this has been completed, we see no reason to guard it.” When reminded that they might have to reconstruct the scene of the crime by taking all the accused to the spot, the officer said, “It is a part of our investigation and we cannot reveal anything.”
Shut since 1980, mill sacked last security guard in 2002
Meanwhile it has come to light that Shakti Mills, which has been shut since 1980 didn’t have a security guard since 2002. Rajesh Mishra, the last employee, was paid a monthly salary of Rs 1,500 and was fired in 2002. According to Mishra, “The mill was under litigation, after a case was filed by a bank against the owners and the mill shut in 1980.” Spread on 17 acres of land, the mill today looks straight out of a ghost story. Trees and bushes have made walking inside a tough task, and snakes and lizards abound the place. “We never entered the mill area and would sit at the main entrance facing the road,” said Mishra, who is now guarding a godown opposite the defunct mill. Today, the mill is known as the den of drug addicts and local goons. A truck driver who parks his vehicle nearby every evening, said the drug addicts and thugs who ruled the place, would often force couple or lovers who came near the place, to shell out money to enter the area. The driver, Eknath, recalled that there were instances when drug addicts would indulge in chain snatching on the road and then run into the mill, where no one could nab them.