Twenty-six years after an activist was murdered for fighting a battle against the land mafia of Vasai-Virar belt in neighbouring Thane district, the Bombay High Court has ordered a fresh probe.
The real culprits were not put on trial and instead a wrong accused was put behind the bars, the Court said.
Yadav Mhatre, actively involved in the welfare of the Adivasis (tribals), was killed on June 29, 1987 allegedly at the behest of the land mafia.
Police had arrested a wrong person named Dilip Tumbda who was finally acquitted by the Sessions Court in 2009 after spending 22 years in jail.
On the other hand, eight persons of a family who were named accused by the victim’s family were discharged by the Court after police filed an application seeking their release on the ground that evidence against them was deficient.
The High Court observed, “real culprits were being shielded although they are named by the prosecution. The criminal case, therefore, could not have been disposed of perfunctorily and hastily and without application of mind, when the allegations are as serious as of causing murder.
“These are not routine and ordinary criminal cases involving petty offences. The aspect of delay, though material, is not always fatal. The administration of justice can never become a casualty. Even after delay, if real culprits are brought before the Court, thereafter the Courts cannot become a silent spectator and dispose of criminal cases casually and light heartedly,” Justice S Dharmadhikari said.
The judgement rendered in this Court, therefore, falls short of the required standards. It has resulted in serious miscarriage of justice.
“In the Sessions Case, where the material placed before the Court show that the real accused were not apprehended, arrested and put up for trial, then, the learned Judge should have been cautious and careful in evaluating the material,” Justice Dharmadhikari remarked.
“Even if he (Judge) was not inclined to convict those who are arraigned as accused, still he was obliged to consider the seriousness of the matter.
“The learned Judge failed to take cognisance and note of the request of the applicant and the prosecution, that the real culprits are now traced and they be named as accused in the case and put up for trial,” the High court bench observed.
“Without deciding that application in accordance with law and straightway delivering a Judgement of acquittal has resulted in miscarriage of justice. This is complete mockery of criminal justice delivery system.”
“I would be failing in my duty as a higher court if I do not interfere with such an acquittal. In revisional powers and equally in exercise of this Court’s inherent power, such acquittals can be set aside,” Justice Dharmadhikari said.
“No doubt, powers have to be exercised sparingly and in exceptional circumstances. However, when there is a glaring defect of procedure, manifest error on the point of law and a flagrant miscarriage of justice, then, there is a obligation to step in,” he observed.
On June 28, 1987, the deceased, Yadav Mhatre, was on his way to Bhabha Atomic Research Centre where he worked as a fitter.
He was accompanied by his brother Ganghadhar, the lone eyewitness in this case. According to Gangadhar, eight persons fired shots at Yadav and escaped after committing the crime.
Gangadhar filed a police complaint and identified the accused as Govind Patil, Mahadev, Kisan, Baban Gharat, Kanti Dhumal, Atmaram Yadav, Kisan Patil and Baban Patil.
The police arrested them and also recovered the weapon. The case was then handed over to CID.
However, CID probe set free these accused and police instead arrested Dilip Tumbda, a young labourer. Dilip’s father and two brothers were also arrested but released later.
After 22 years, Tumbda was finally acquitted on June 29, 2009 by a Sessions court.
While ordering a fresh probe now, the High Court has made it clear that Dilip shall not be arraigned as an accused in this case since his acquittal has not been disputed.