New Delhi: Alleged fabrication of statements, absence of technical evidence and undue reliance on eyewitnesses’ statements — which reportedly kept changing in the same chargesheet — continue to raise questions about the Delhi Police’s investigations into the communal violence in North-East Delhi in February this year. The violence led to 53 lives lost, most of whom were Muslims.
In this story, NewsClick takes a deep look into the chargesheet filed in the murder case of Shahid Alam, a 25-year-old auto rickshaw driver from Bulandshahr district in Uttar Pradesh, who was wounded by a gunshot and later succumbed to injuries on February 24 at GTB Hospital, Delhi.
The deceased, who was residing in Mustafabad, was reportedly part of a Muslim group, which had climbed on to the roof of Saptarishi Ispat and Alloys, a manufacturer of precious and non-ferrous metals, at main Wazirabad Road in Chand Bagh.
Saptarishi Ispat is located right opposite Mohan Nursing Home in Yamuna Vihar. As per various video footages, the terrace of the nursing home had a group of Hindu men the same afternoon, who could be seen pelting stones and shooting at a crowd that was protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Amid rising tension and violence between the two sides, Head Constable Rattan Lal was killed at the throughway between the two buildings at around 1 p.m in skirmishes between the police and rioters, as per various media reports.
Based on the statements of three eyewitnesses and oral evidence presented by police officials, the investigators have arrested six men belonging to the minority community. However, all the three eyewitnesses, who were working with Saptrishi Ispat and Alloys during the violence, have alleged that their statements were “fabricated”.
The six accused were chargesheeted on June 8 by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Crime Branch in FIR number 84/2020, registered at Dayalpur Police Station, under over a dozen of Sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including murder, attempt to murder, criminal intimidation, dacoity, rioting and criminal conspiracy.
Those who have been arrested are Raees Khan (28), Chand Mohammad (32), Akil Ahmad (42), Mohammad Junaid (23), Mohammad Firoz (28) and Irshad (22).
The three eyewitnesses are Mukesh (20), Arvind (24) and Narayan (50). Mukesh is one of the most important eyewitnesses — according to the chargesheet — as he has identified all the six accused and has given multiple statements. As per the case diary, wherein investigators records their day-to-day activities with regard to the probe they are doing, accessed and seen by NewsClick, Mukesh in his statement under Section 161 Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.PC) dated March 8, described what he saw on February 24.
He purportedly said that he saw the agitators opposing the CAA pelting stones on the police on main Wazirabad road in the afternoon. As tension grew in the area, the facility where he worked was closed and he went on the terrace.
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It may be recalled that tension in the Trans-Yamuna region began on February 23 evening and escalated to full-blown communal violence that lasted for well beyond 48 hours.
“Twenty to twenty-five people suddenly broke into the shop and climbed the roof of the building (Saptrishi Ispat and Alloys). Some of them were muffled. Everyone was armed with guns, sticks, bottles and stone-filled bags. They threatened me and my fellow workers. We urged them with folded hands to spare us as we are here to earn livelihood. Following this, they went downstairs. We saw more protesters carrying a bag full of stones upstairs,” the case dairy of the police has recorded Mukesh as saying.
Mukesh — according to the chargesheet — identified one of the men from the Muslim group, as he runs a printing press behind Saptrishi Ispat and Alloys, but could not name him. Based on this statement, the police arrested Raees Khan, who has a printing press in Lane 1 of the 25 Foota Road in Chand Bagh.
The other two witnesses on March 8 narrated the same story word by word. The only difference is, they did not claim to have recognised anyone. However, the chargesheet claims that the two recognised Raees in their statements.
As per his supplementary statement recorded on March 12, Arvind identified the accused after four days at the crime branch office, when Firoz, Chand and Raees were allegedly produced before him. In his supplementary statement, he stated that he did not know any of the accused, but learnt about them from the police.
‘POLICE FABRICATED MY STATEMENTS’
Mukesh said when the Muslim group broke into Saptrishi Ispat and Alloys on February 24, he along with Arvind and Narayan and few others, locked himself into a room.
“They knocked the door and asked us to step out. We told them we have nothing to do with anything. We are here to earn a living. One of them asked others not to harm us and they left,” he told NewsClick, clarifying that he could not identify anyone in the group.
“We had been shown some photos by the police and asked to identify the people. But we could not do so, as we had not seen anyone. We were inside the room and did not unlock the door when they had come upstairs,” he said.
Asked if he knows Raees Khan, he said: “I don’t know any Raees Khan.”
This correspondent read out the statements attributed to him in the case diary, after which Mukesh said: “Whatever the police have written under my name is nothing but fabrication. It’s a pure lie. No one was paraded before me when I was called once at Daryaganj (office of the Crime Branch). The officer who spoke to me asked me if I identified any rioter. I told him I could not identify anyone I did not see them.”
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Incidentally, the police in the case diary has claimed that Mukesh identified all the six accused when they were paraded before him at the Crime Branch office after their arrests.
Narayan and Arvind have also reportedly denied that they recognised any member of the mob that broke into the Saptarishi Ispat and Alloys that day.
The police have claimed that in addition to Raees, ‘eyewitness’ Arvind also identified two other accused -- Chand Mohammad and Mohammad Firoz.
“No one was brought before me. The police showed us a few photos to identify. But I could not identify anyone, as I did not see anyone as we were inside the room and the mob had their faces covered,” Arvind told Newsclick.
Contrary to the investigators’ claim, Narayan also said he neither recognised Raees, nor anyone in the group.
“The mob, which barged into the shop, comprised 30-40 people. They came upstairs and tried to break the gate of the room where we were hiding. After we told them that we are poor people who have come to the city to earn wages, some of them asked the rest of the mob not to harass us. Before they left, they asked us to go downstairs and leave the warehouse. I could not identify anyone in the mob,” Narayan told NewsClick.
ACCUSED TOO DENY CONFESSIONAL STATEMENTS
Even Mohammad Firoz and Chand Mohammad, who are out on bail, have denied they made any confessional statement, as is being claimed by the police in the chargesheet.
Firoz, a taxi driver, was arrested from Bhajanpura on March 11. In his ‘confessional’ statement, the police have quoted him as saying that he went home when the violence began at main Wazirabad Road and returned with a danda (stick). “I forgot my mobile phone at home and returned to the spot and joined the mob,” reads his purported statement accessed by NewsClick.
The chargesheet says that “mobile phone of accused Firoz was active in the area of scene of crime” on February 24.
Firoz is lodged in Mandoli prison after his arrest on March 11. He was granted interim bail because of the novel coronavirus pandemic on April 12.
Firoz rubbished the ‘confessional’ statement, and said that he went home as the violence broke out and did not step out. “Therefore,” he said, “the police claim that my phone was active near Saptrishi Ispat and Alloys is false”.
Interestingly, the police has not produced CCTV footage or pictures from the time as technical evidence. Instead, they have used call data records to locate the accused on the day Shahid was shot dead.
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Chand Mohammad, another taxi driver, who was also arrested on March 11, has also levelled serious allegations against the investigators. He alleged the SIT made him sign blank papers under the pretext of a “normal exercise”.
“I was in Khureji in East Delhi on February 24, and I never attended the protest. After I was arrested, I was made to sign blank papers. I was told that it is a normal procedure. I don’t know what has been written under my name,” he alleged.
When this correspondent read out the purported statements, both the accused denied the contents and alleged that the story had been “narrated” by the police under their names.
Firoz and Chand have been arrested again after their bail was cancelled on July 19.
WHO KILLED SHAHID?
Standing on the Chand Bagh side, a Muslim mob was reportedly pelting stones at the police force while the Hindu mob gathered on the opposite side in Yamuna Vihar. Video footage captured from Yamuna Vihar also show policemen and Hindu mobsters pelting stones from the other side, in the service lane outside Mohan Nursing Home, which is located right opposite Saptarishi Ispat and Alloys.
Shahid and others — as the chargesheet claims — had climbed to the terrace of Saptarishi Ispat and Alloys “from where they could hurl stones and fire at the rioters of the other community and also the police”.
Describing circumstances surrounding Shahid’s death, the chargesheet states, “...at around 3:30 pm, a gunshot hit the deceased and the bullet tracking of which suggested that it went downwards from the left side front abdomen region to the right side of back of abdomen. Three fragments of copper coloured metallic bullet jacket found from his body was possibly a case of fire from close proximity. However the incidents of firing from the buildings on the other side especially Mohan Nursing Home is also being looked into.”
“As of now,” says the chargesheet, “it seems that the fragments obtained are of small arms and hence it is highly unlikely that it could have been fired from Mohan Nursing Home”.
The police have used the words such as “possibly”, “seems”, “suggested”, “being looked into” and “highly unlikely” in the chargesheet, hinting that the investigators have not procured the firearm and unearthed conclusive evidence.
NDTV anchor Ravish Kumar in his Prime Time show on March 5 had shown a group of men standing atop Mohan Nursing Home in Yamuna Vihar, firing at a crowd below, which is coming from Chand Bagh during a face-off between Muslim-dominated Chand Bagh vs Hindu-dominated Yamuna Vihar.
The video was shot from a cell phone in Chand Bagh just across the hospital. A man wearing a helmet can be seen firing while another one can be seen throwing stones and bottles filled with a liquid. Others can be seen standing next to him.
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Despite the video surfacing in the public domain, the police are yet to act. Though the gunman is wearing a helmet, others can easily be identified, as their faces are clearly visible.
The same man who filmed the video reportedly shot another video where a young man (Shahid Alam) shot in the stomach is being seen brought down with a ladder by people from the rooftop of Saptrishi Ispat and Alloys.
The SIT in its chargesheet says that it has not arrested any of the persons seen carrying Shahid Alam in the NDTV footage. They said they used the footage to develop still pictures but the men “could not be identified as the pixel broke down while enlarging the pictures”. “All efforts were made to establish the identity of these persons but no clue could be gathered,” they further added.
Notably, no one from the Hindu mobsters, which had taken over Mohan Nursing Home, has so far been taken into custody.