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HC raps police over probe in Byculla Jail inmate’s death

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The Bombay High Court expressed unhappiness over the probe into the death of an inmate of Byculla prison here, saying the Mumbai Police’s crime branch is leaving no stone unturned to ensure that it is seen as an “accidental death”.

Manju Shette (45), an inmate of the Byculla women’s prison, who was serving a life sentence, died at the government-run J J Hospital on June 23 night, sparking off a huge protest by over 200 inmates of the prison.

While the inmates alleged that she was assaulted by jail officials, the prison authorities today informed the high court that she died after falling in the toilet.

“Till date, you (crime branch) have left no stone unturned to see to it that it is seen as an accidental death.

How can you treat this as accidental death? We have no words to say about your carelessness,” a division bench of Justices R M Savant and Sadhana Jadhav said.

The high court was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Pune resident Pradeep Bhalekar, who has sought that the probe into the death be transferred to an independent agency.

The court was also irked with differences in the post-mortem report and death information certificate issued by a doctor of the JJ Hospital.

“The post-mortem report observed injuries on the body of the victim. But the certificate issued by one Vishwesh Rote, doctor of JJ hospital, says ‘no obvious external injuries noted’,” the bench noted.

“Prima facie we find that the postmortem report and the certificate do not gel. The crime branch should immediately record the statement of the doctors to get a clearer picture,” Justice Savant said.

The court, after perusing affidavits filed by the police and jail authorities, said it was not satisfied with the manner and the direction in which the investigation was moving.

“We are not at all happy with the investigation. You (crime branch) should be taking it seriously. Are you shielding someone? Is this how you treat all other cases too?” Justice Jadhav said.

“This is not just about the death of one person. It is in the larger interest of the society. People are losing faith in the authorities,” the judge observed.

The bench directed the crime branch to complete the recording of statement of witnesses and doctors concerned expeditiously and file a status report on July 31, when the matter will be heard again.

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