Noticing a slow pace of investigation into the death of 22-year-old Raju Velu Devendra, who allegedly died due to brutalities of policemen attached to Juhu police station, the Bombay high court (HC) on Monday transferred the case to a special investigation team (SIT).
The division bench of chief justice Dipankar Datta and justice Anuja Prabhudessai directed the commissioner of police, Mumbai to appoint two senior police officers having “impeccable integrity and unquestionable competence” to the SIT within 24 hours of receipt of the order. The team has been ordered to try to complete the investigation within a month.
“We are not at all impressed by the state of affairs,” the bench commented after noticing that the investigation was at standstill after the assistant commissioner of police of Bandra division, who was investigating the case, was found Covid-19 positive and the investigation was handed over to another police officer about a fortnight ago.
“Since, prima facie, there are allegations of police excesses on the victim, we expected that the Mumbai Police would complete the investigation with utmost urgency,” said the bench.
The court was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by lawyer and human rights activist Firdause Irani raising concerns about police excesses during enforcement of the nationwide lockdown imposed to contain the spread of Covid-19 infection.
Apart from pointing out the assault on him, his wife and two sons by a team of policemen and civic staff outside his house in Goregaon (West), Irani has also highlighted a report by a human rights organisation that revealed that 15 persons had lost their lives across India due to police brutalities during the lockdown and two of them were from Mumbai. Devendra was one of them.
According to the report, Devendra’s family members alleged that on March 30, when they proceeded to see a relative, a police team chased them and caught the deceased. The policemen, the report added, informed the relatives that they were taking Devendra to Juhu police station, but in the morning they were informed by the police that Raju was lying at Nehru Nagar Chowk and when they took him to a hospital, he was declared dead on arrival.
Juhu police had, however, maintained that Devedra’s death was a case of mob lynching. Police said he was caught by local residents while trying to enter a house at Mutthu Swami Chawl at Vile Parle. They claimed the deceased attempted to flee by climbing the roof, but slipped and fell on the ground. When he tried to run away, the mob chased him to an open space and started beating him up, which led to him losing his consciousness.
It was only after the matter reached HC, that the police admitted that the deceased was assaulted by four policemen, all of whom were suspended during pendency of departmental inquiry.
During the course of hearing on Monday, petitioner’s lawyer, advocate Gopal Shakarnarayanan, brought to the attention of the court several videos showing police charging lathi on people riding bikes. “This is not what we expect from the state,” the lawyer said complaining about the use of force by police.
The bench, however, refused to accept the contention. “There are black sheeps everywhere,” said the bench. “There are many among us (members of general public) who don’t care about lockdown restrictions,” it said.
The judges said that if people violate law, some people will have to be dealt with strong hands. “Ultimately, police also have to safeguard the interest of the public, and we, as judges, cannot foresee when lathis and teargas etc. would be required to be used,” the judges said.
HC has now posted the PIL for further hearing on September 21 with a direction to the SIT to submit copy of the charge sheet to HC if its investigation is complete by then.