THE SESSIONS court Friday rapped the state CID for a delay in the long-pending trial against four policemen accused of the custodial death of 27-year-old Khwaja Yunus in 2003. The court said it was “suspicious” that while other trials were being completed, this one was stuck with no appointment of a special public prosecutor since the earlier one was removed by the state government in 2018.
“The record reveals that despite repeated notices/letters to state CID, no action has been taken by the department concerned to pursue the part-heard case of a murder in which police officers are accused and this would be a mockery of justice that no heed has been given to the directions of this court from 2014 till today despite repeated directions,” additional sessions judge Justice U J More said, asking why a prosecutor had not been appointed in the case.
The accused in the case include the now dismissed cop Sachin Waze and three other constables, who were reinstated by the Mumbai Police last year. The court had directed to produce Waze, currently lodged in Taloja jail for his alleged involvement in the bomb scare outside industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s Mumbai residence, via videoconference. A jail official informed the court that he was deposing Friday before a judicial inquiry and could not remain present.
A software engineer, Yunus was arrested in December 2002 for questioning in the Ghatkopar bomb blast case. He was last seen alive on January 6, 2003, when the others arrested with him said that he was brutally assaulted in custody. While the police claimed that Yunus had escaped from custody while being ferried by a team led by Waze, the CID had found the claim false and filed a case against the four policemen.
The first witness to depose in the case, a man arrested with Yunus in 2002 and subsequently cleared of all charges, had told the court that he had seen four other policemen assault Yunus. The prosecutor, who sought to add the four as accused, was removed by the state government mid-trial in 2018. The trial has been stalled since then. Yunus’ mother Aasiya Begum has challenged the removal of the prosecutor, which is pending.
On Friday, Justice More said he had perused the daily records of the court since 2009 when the case was assigned to a fast-track court, and found that it was not “seriously pursued” by the CID with its officers not remaining present for many hearings.
The court also said that records showed that only one witness had deposed so far and a further delay would affect their testimony as they would not be able to recollect facts from so many years ago. It also questioned the CID on the issue of summons to witnesses and on ensuring their protection.
In the previous hearing on July 30, the court had asked for a progress report. A CID officer Friday submitted that multiple petitions, filed by both Yunus’ mother and the accused, were pending before higher courts though there was no stay order on the trial in the pending proceedings.
The CID officer also informed the court that after the previous prosecutor was removed by the state government in April 2018, it had written to the Maharashtra additional chief secretary (Home) on the appointment of a prosecutor in May and November 2018 but there had been no response from the department.
The officer said that after the last hearing, another reminder was sent but no correspondence was received following which the court asked if the CID had taken any concrete steps to pursue the issue by visiting the home department.
“Many of my learned predecessors have expressed helplessness… There are repeated orders against the CID… The records show that the CID had not seriously pursued the case. The state CID is trusted by common people… In this case, the records show that the court has repeatedly called for the case diary, given show-cause notice to the superintendent. Records show that nobody from the CID turns up for the trial. Why should action under contempt of court not be taken?” the court said.
Chief public prosecutor Jaysing Desai said the court should consider that there was the lockdown since 2020 and assured the court that the issue will be followed upon. Desai also submitted that care would be taken to ensure that an officer from CID is present for the trial henceforth.
The court granted the CID a month’s time and sought a report on the status of the appointment of the special public prosecutor as well as a report on the petitions pending before the Bombay High Court and Supreme Court in the case. It also directed that summons be issued to Yunus’ mother Aasiya Begum for clarity on her pending petition before the top court.