Twenty-five years after he was first charged with attempted murder, the Bombay High Court has acquitted a man accused of pumping 105 pellets into a jailor’s hand as revenge for having assaulted him while he was in prison. The offence dates back to December 1988 and took place in the residential quarters of Thane Central Prison.
Three months before the offence, jailor Bhagwan Jagtap had reportedly chastised Prabhakar Rane, then 32, and two of his co-inmates, while demanding they return to their barracks. He had also allegedly beaten and slapped the three of them. On December 28, 1988 around 2.15 pm while Jagtap was reading the newspaper in his quarters, three people in a blue Fiat arrived there and shot at him.
According to the prosecution, they also abused him for behaving in a high-handed manner with prisoners, before escaping. The assailants appeared to have deliberately targeted Jagtap's right palm, from which 105 gun pellets were later removed at the Thane Hospital. Luckily, Jagtap survived the assault. The police eventually arrested Rane and two others, one of whom was later acquitted. Notably, there were no incriminating firearms seized from Rane. The third accused who was convicted, never challenged his conviction.
Taking note of Rane’s appeal, the High Court on Wednesday observed it was crucial to prove whether Rane was the one who had fired the pellets. The court noted that as per Jagtap’s statement, it was the other accused, from whom the police recovered firearms. The court’s attention was also brought to the fact that geographical peculiarities of the victim’s location made it implausible to believe Jagtap’s claim that he’d seen the accused alight from the car.
The firing took place in a matter of seconds, during which time Jagtap ran away, further denting the possibility of his having seen the offenders. The statement of another jailor, which ran contrary to the prosecution case, was the final straw.
Abhiman Randive, the other jailer, stated he was the first person to whom Jagtap had narrated the incident after running into the jail with his injuries. He’d been told that ‘unknown’ persons had fired at his hand, discrediting Jagtap’s version that he knew the people who fired at him. Though Randive was declared as a hostile witness during the trial, the High Court decided this did not necessarily mean he was lying.
Justice RC Chavan observed, “In my view, the arguments advanced to show that the opportunity which the victim may have had to see the miscreants was too short and therefore, unless there is some unimpeachable evidence to show that the identification of the appellant by Jagtap is reliable, this evidence by itself would not be sufficient to hold the appellant guilty.”