Custodial death: HC seeks Government’s reply on 13 missing witnesses

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The Bombay High Court asked the Maharashtra government to inform it in two weeks how 13 witnesses in a case of custodial death had gone missing since September 2010, failing which it would order the state DGP or other competent authority to conduct a judicial probe.

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The direction was given by a bench headed by Justice Abhay Oka, which pulled up the state and jail authorities for their stand that the witnesses in this case were not traceable since last six years.

A public interest litigation in the high court alleged that an attempt was being made by authorities to hush up the case and this explains why 13 witnesses have gone missing.

The PIL deals with the death of undertrial Robert Almeida, who died in Thane prison in 1997. The police report had said that he was mentally ill, and “injured himself”.

“Of the 13 witnesses, six are eyewitnesses, who have seen the death of the victim in jail. How can all the 13 witnesses go missing and remain untraceable?” the PIL asked.

The record of 13 witnesses going missing was sent by jail authorities to the home department of the state government, which said that this was a subject matter of a judicial inquiry.

Perusing the record, the bench said, “It appears that even the state government is not satisfied with the jail authority’s reply and wants a judicial inquiry.”

Public Prosecutor Mankovar Deshmukh said the missing witnesses were on bail and they are not traceable.

The bench also noted that from the records it appears that the witnesses were available till September 8, 2010, but thereafter their whereabouts were not yet known.