How MP police bungled Sabharwal murder case
Posted August 13, 2009on:
Additional District and Sessions Judge Nitin Dalvi, at Nagpur, has acquitted all the six Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) activists, accused in the murder of Prof. H.S.Sabharwal. He had to, as he observed in his brief order, because “the prosecution has failed to put up evidence to prove its case and hence the court acquits all six accused.”
That it was coming to this had been visualised by a division bench of the Supreme Court comprising Arijit Payasat and D.K.Jain during the hearing of a petition seeking transfer of the Sabharwal murder case trial out of Madhya Pradesh in view of the State-sponsored efforts to sabotage a fair trial. While staying the proceedings in the Ujjain court, the bench had asked the BJP government of the State, through its counsel: “What action have you taken against those police officers who resiled from their earlier statements? Would not the trial be a mockery if your police officers turned hostile? Our anxiety is that every police officer will be given a clean chit. We have seen what has happened in the Best Bakery case.” (In Gujarat’s “Best Bakery case” all the accused were acquitted of the mass communal killings after the witnesses, which included some injured victims, turned hostile.)
In the March 12,2008 order, eventually transferring the trial of the case from Ujjain to Nagpur, the bench observed: “Late Prof. H.S.Sabharwal was a professor in Government College, Ujjain, M.P. He was brutally beaten up by certain persons, for taking a rigid stand in the college union elections. Though the assaults were made in the presence of several police officials, media persons and members of public, attempt has been made to project as if his death was a result of an accident. Initially, First Information Report was lodged and after investigation charge sheet was filed and charges have been framed against several persons who are respondents 2 to 7 in the Transfer Petition. The trial commenced in the Court of Sessions Judge, Ujjain, being Sessions Case No. 291 of 2006. During examination of several witnesses who were stated to be eyewitnesses, such witnesses resiled from the statements made during investigation. There were even three police witnesses who also resiled from their earlier statements. They are Dhara Singh (PW-32), Sukhnandan (PW-33) and Dilip Tripathi (PW-34)”.
The bench added: “Grievance of the petitioner is that the witnesses have been coerced, threatened and ultimately justice is a casualty. Role of the investigating officer gives ample scope to doubt impartiality and the sincerity of the investigating agency. Similar is the position of the public prosecutor. It is also highlighted that the trial Court also did not make a serious effort to see that justice is done. In this connection it is pointed out that public prosecutor did not cross-examine the persons who had resiled from their statements made during investigation….”
The unabashed attempts by chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan (who has himself held important positions in the ABVP) to save the accused had started from day one. Once the sabotage of a proper investigation and a fair trial was ensured, the chief minister virtually patted the Ujjain Superintendent of Police on the back and shifted him to a more important position of Bhopal District Police Chief.
Ironically, Prof. Sabharwal was a founder-member of the Vidyarthi Parishad which was later renamed Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. A professor in Government-run Madhav College at Ujjain, he was asked to conduct the students’ union elections on August 26 three years ago. Finding irregularities, he announced cancellation of the elections for which he was beaten up by the students allegedly belonging to the ABVP in full public view. The police personnel on duty did not act. Prof. M.L.Nath, a colleague of Prof. Sabharwal, was manhandled by a group led by ABVP State President Shashi Ranjan Singh Akela and Organising Secretary Vimal Tomar when he tried to intervene.
As Prof. Sabharwal was taken to the hospital by his colleagues and declared dead there, chief minister Chauhan went public with the statement that Prof. Sabharwal had died in an accident and that the ABVP had nothing to do with his death. However, the visuals of the ABVP activists’ role in the crime repeatedly shown on the TV channels and the countrywide outrage over the murder of the professor forced Chauhan to ask the police to ‘investigate’.
Initially, the police had arrested 22 persons, mostly belonging to the Congress, in connection with the rowdyism on the Madhav College campus. However, under public pressure (the attack on Prof. Sabharwal had made the national headlines), 12 students owing allegiance to ABVP were named accused in the murder. Ultimately, the challan under Sections 302 and 147 IPC was put up against six of them. They were: Shashi Ranjan Akela (State President of ABVP); Vimal Tomar (Divisional Organising Secretary, ABVP); Vishal Rajoria (member of State Executive, ABVP); Hemant Dube (District Convener, ABVP); Sudhir Yadav and Pankaj Mishra (activists of ABVP). Chauhan announced in the Assembly that all of them had since been removed from ABVP.
CM’s mischievous role
As if Chauhan’s attributing Prof. Sabharwal’s death to an accident was not enough, he contrived to have a 20-minute one-to-one session with ABVP organising secretary Vimal Tomar. It was done cleverly. First Tomar was declared indisposed and admitted to the hospital in Ujjain; from there he was shifted to Indore’s M.Y.Hospital. Chauhan flew to Indore and had with Tomar a closed-door meeting in the hospital room. Soon after Chauhan returned to Bhopal, Tomar was taken to Ujjain.
A crucial help to the police in subverting the investigation was provided by the State’s forensic experts. Prof. Sabharwal’s viscera and heart, with a covering letter from the Ujjain District Police, were put in a sealed container and addressed, appropriately, to Indore for pathological tests but the samples landed in Bhopal. The doctors at the Mahatma Gandhi Medico-Legal Institute in Bhopal opened the samples, repacked them and redirected these to Indore. The pathology department of the Indore Medical College found that “the article was not properly sealed in a container and also the labels and papers accompanying it were incomplete”. What the Medico-Legal Institute in Bhopal (headed by Dr D.K.Satpathy, who has earned notoriety for toeing the “official” line) had done to the organs before haphazardly repacking them and redirecting them to Indore would probably never be known.
Then started the process of the witnesses (even the policemen who were eye-witnesses) turning hostile when the Supreme Court ordered transfer of the trial to the Nagpur court. Apparently it was too late by that time. Whatever was left “unfinished” in Madhya Pradesh was taken care of by the callous attitude of Chauhan’s handpicked Public Prosecutor whose behaviour has come in for some sharp comments by Nagpur Additional Sessions Judge Nitin Dalvi.