Mumbai: The eight police officers arrested for their complicity in the alleged custodial death of Agnelo Valdaris, 25, in 2014 will have to face murder charges as there is prima facie sufficient ground for this, Bombay High Court ruled on Friday.
“Cases of police torture are on the rise,” observed Justice Amit Borkar, who was hearing two petitions filed by the eight officers challenging the order of the special court stating that murder charges would be invoked against them.
“Rarely in cases of police torture or custodial death, direct ocular evidence of the complicity of police personnel would be available. It is not unknown that police personnel prefer to remain silent and more often than not even pervert truth to save their colleagues,” Justice Borkar said.
“Torture in police custody, which of late is on the rise would receive encouragement if this court interferes at this stage. It would reinforce belief in the mind of police that no harm would come to them if a poor boy dies in the lock-up as there would hardly be evidence to directly implicate them with torture,” the court observed.
Whether or not the custodial death has occurred because of the acts of the petitioners is a matter of trial, the court said.
“The material on record prima facie is sufficient ground to proceed against the petitioners for offence under section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code,” Justice Borkar said while dismissing the plea.
Agnelo and a few other youths, including a minor, were allegedly detained by police in Wadala in April 2014 for the alleged theft of a man's gold chain. Agnelo’s father, Leonard, based on statements of co-accused and witnesses, alleged that Agnelo was tortured and sexually assaulted in custody. After he succumbed to injuries, the police allegedly dumped his body on the railway tracks and claimed that he was run over by a train while trying to flee from custody.
Mr Valdaris had filed a protest petition before the special court under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO Act) seeking that police officers should be charged with murder. The special court, on September 17, 2022, allowed the protest petition and said that the accused will be tried on charges under section 302 and 295(A) (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) of the IPC.
The police officers challenged this order before the high court.
Satish Borulkar, advocate for the police officers, contended that the protest petition filed by Mr Valdaris was not maintainable.
Hiten Venegavkar, advocate for the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), supported the petition in the high court, stating that the investigating agency had probed the case and found that there is no material on record to show that the police officers committed murder.
However, the high court noted that the statements of co-inmates of the deceased recorded by the CBI show that they witnessed torture meted out to the deceased. “Co-inmates have given graphic details of physical and sexual torture meted to the deceased and other co-inmates,” the court noted.
The police had recorded the statement of Mr Valdaris that his son had told the doctor who treated him at the hospital that he was tortured by police. The medical officer at the hospital, Dr Aejaz Husain, who examined the Agnelo, stated that the policemen were pressurizing him and Mr Valdaris to write that the injuries on Agnelo were self-inflicted.
The high court also noted that despite a court order on June 17, 2014, to preserve CCTV footage of the police station, it was not produced before the special court.
The high court also relied on the postmortem report, which showed that Agnelo’s body had several injuries that were 24 to 96 hours old.
The special court had also found that the prima facie station diary of Wadala Police Station was “not properly maintained” and it was done with the intention to “suppress” facts.
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