South Mumbai jail inmate murder: Is state shielding alleged killers?
Glaring loopholes in the inquiry of Byculla jail inmate Manjula Shetye's murder point to a possible cover-up by the state machinery to save six jail officials allegedly responsible for the crime
Byculla jail has been at the centre of controversy since the custodial death of inmate Manjula Shetye
Manjula Shetye's death in Byculla jail is shocking on several counts — not only was she the first woman victim of custodial death in Maharashtra, the preliminary post-mortem report seems to support allegations in the FIR that she died because of a brutal assault by jail officials. Despite this, even five days after the FIR was registered, her alleged tormentors are yet to be arrested.
Juniors perform autopsy
Despite the sensitive nature of the case, it turns out that protocol was not followed during the autopsy at JJ Hospital either. Instead of having a professor or associate professor or assistant professor perform the post-mortem, it was done by a lecturer, Dr Sunny Khandare, attached to the Department of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology along, with two trainees, Dr Priya Patil and Dr N Kamble.
When questioned about this, Dr TP Lahane, dean of Grant Medical College, tried to downplay the issue. "While the three doctors conducted the autopsy, Dr Sadanand Bhise the associate professor was supervising the entire procedure," he said, before disconnecting the line.
mid-day has learnt, from reliable sources, that the post-mortem copy was not signed by Dr Bhise either. "If he was supervising the autopsy then why didn't he sign it?" asked a forensic expert, adding, "When such a high-profile case is brought, a minimum of two gazetted officers (lecturer, assistant, associate or professor) should conduct the autopsy, which was not done in this case."
Manjula Shetye died after allegedly being assaulted in Byculla prison on June 23
'Inconclusive, say cops'
The provisional cause of death certificate states that the victim died due to multiple contusions (blunt trauma), along with pulmonary edema (excess fluid in the lungs), which supports allegations that Manjula was brutally assaulted. However, a senior police officer insisted, "The post-mortem report was inconclusive."
Experts said that the police have enough evidence to arrest the accused jail officials on the basis of the autopsy report and the testimony of Mariam Shaikh (27), a Byculla jail inmate who is also the complainant in the case. Mariam gave a detailed account of Shetye's ordeal, and even named six jail staffers who were the perpetrators.
Her testimony was corroborated by former media magnate Indrani Mukerjea in court on Wednesday.
It was on the basis of Mariam's statement that the Nagpada police lodged an FIR under Sections 302 (murder) and 34 (common intention) of the IPC. Asked why the accused were not arrested then, DCP (Zone 3) Akhilesh Singh said, "How can we arrest anyone without evidence?"
On pointing out that the post-mortem stated multiple injuries as the cause of death, Singh retorted, "The cause of death also mentions pulmonary edema."
Manjula Shetye. Victim
A senior forensic expert explained that pulmonary edema does not rule out assault. "Pulmonary edema is nothing but collection of fluid in lung tissues, which can happen due to illness or shock. The first reason for death is multiple contusions, which clearly indicates that the victim was assaulted. Also there are eyewitnesses who witnessed the assault by jail staff, which is sufficient evidence for arrest."
Advocate Anjali Patil, a practicing criminal lawyer, said, "The police should not wait for the final post-mortem findings, as the very nature of injury on the body show that the deceased was assaulted, and there are witnesses to corroborate the same. The final post-mortem report is required during trial to prove the case against the accused."
She added, "Normally, the police are quick to arrest a suspect and then collect evidence. Surprisingly, in this case, they are seeking all opinions before arresting the accused."
Indrani Mukerjea. Witness
Crime Branch says
A senior crime branch officer said, "We got the case in our hand officially on Wednesday and we spent all of Thursday before the women's commission. We are yet to call the jail staff for questioning." Asked if any of the accused were absconding, the officer replied in the negative, adding, "We haven't called them yet for questioning, but I can assure you that we will do a proper investigation and nail all those who are involved."
Lacunae in probe
Advocate Patil added, "This is the first case of custodial death of a woman convict by prison staff. Instead of handing over the investigation to the state CID or CBI, why was the Crime Branch assigned the investigation? Also senior prison officials should had been restricted from having any dialogue with the suspects or inmates, as they could influence witnesses and tamper with the evidence."
She further pointed out that the police should have recorded the statements of inmate witnesses before a magistrate under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code."
Senior public prosecutor Rohini Salian said, "I am not purview to the case details, but all I can say on the basis of media reports is that the police could have handled the case better and that they could have probed the matter on the basis of the FIR."
Advocate Nazneen Khatri, who wrote to the Chief Justice of Bombay High Court on behalf of the inmates, said, "I will soon be moving a petition to quash the riot case registered against 291 undertrial prisoners. It is unfortunate that the accused who should have been arrested are still absconding and undertrials will continue to languish in jail because of a fresh case against them."
Cause of death
The post-mortem, which was videographed, gave a provisional cause of death certificate, stating that the death was due to "multiple contusions… with pulmonary edema". The viscera have been preserved for chemical analysis (to rule our any intoxication or poisoning) and histopathology (to rule out disease). There was no mention of injuries to the victim's private parts.
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