The Bombay High Court on Monday directed the Mumbai Police Commissioner to form a Special Investigation Team of two officers "with impeccable integrity and unquestionable competence" within 24 hours to "freely and fairly" investigate the death of a 22-year-old man in Vile Parle who was assaulted by police officials on March 29 during the lockdown.
Division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Anuja Prabhudessai were hearing a PIL filed by a lawyer Firdaus Irani who highlighted cases of police brutality during the lockdown seeking directions to the police.
State had previously informed the Court that four policemen have been identified via CCTV footage for the allegedly fatal assault. Government pleader Poornima Kantharia had told the bench that the said policemen they used fiber lathis in a bid to discipline the deceased.whether the deceased succumbed to the injuries inflicted by reason of such assault by fiber lathis is a matter which needs further investigation.
As per the Court's directions, a status report dated August 17, 2020 was filed by Suhas Raikar, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Santacruz Division, Mumba. After reading the report, the bench expressed annoyance at the lack of seriousness in the said investigation-
"We have read the report and express our displeasure at the manner in which the investigation in question is being handled by Mumbai Police. The Addl. Commissioner of Police who was in-charge of investigation between April 10 and July 23, 2020, proceeded on sick leave on July 29, 2020, resulting in entrustment of the investigation to Mr. Raikar. Mr. Raikar has taken over the investigation on August 14, 2020. Obviously, in such a short time, he has not been able to make much headway and has prayed for time to complete the investigation."
Moreover, Court observed-
"Allegations of police excess committed on the deceased victim having surfaced, concern was expressed in no uncertain terms in our earlier order that there should be free, fair and meaningful investigation of the crime. We thus expected Mumbai Police to be diligent in completing the investigation with utmost expedition and thereby provide a sense of credibility.
Prima facie, the police has been dragging its feet and the situation that has since emerged leaves a lot to be desired. We have no option but to direct the Commissioner of Police, Mumbai Police to constitute a Special Investigation Team comprising of two police officers of impeccable integrity and unquestionable competence. Such officers shall be appointed by the Commissioner of Police within 24 hours of receipt of a copy of this order, whereafter all papers, documents, and materials collected during investigation shall be handed over to the officers comprising the said investigation team."
Petitioner's advocate Gopal Sankaranarayan argued that there are at least 13 videos in their possession of policemen assaulting citizens for allegedly violating lockdown orders. Court noted that there are two sides to this argument as many citizens have violated lockdown orders which is also not correct.
Finally, the bench said-
"We hope and trust that the Special Investigation Team shall fairly, freely, efficiently and meaningfully conduct and complete the investigation and be in position to place the police report under Section 173(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure by the time we assemble next on September 21, 2020.
In the meanwhile, the petitioner shall be free to offer suggestions to curb alleged police brutality complained of by him."
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