The case diary of Behmai massacre, in which 20 people were killed allegedly by bandit Phoolan Devi’s gang nearly four decades ago, was found missing on Saturday when a special court was to pronounce its verdict, prompting the judge to postpone the matter to January 24.
Special judge (UP dacoity-affected area) Sudhir Kumar pulled up the court official for the absence of the case diary at the time of delivering the verdict and asked him to place it before the court on January 24.
The court is likely to give its verdict on the role of the four surviving accused — Posha, Bhikha, Vishwanath and Shyambabu. While Posha is still in jail, the rest are out on bail. Three other dacoits, including Man Singh, are absconding.
The judge postponed pronouncement of the verdict after finding out that the original case diary was missing from court record, district government counsel (criminal) Rajeev Porwal told PTI.
The court has now listed the case on January 24, asking its staff to trace the missing case diary and place it before it on the next date, Porwal said.
“The court decided to fix another date for pronouncing the judgement only after the original case diary is located,” he said.
The court also issued a notice to the sessions clerk concerned for the case diary going missing, Porwal said, adding strict instructions have been issued to find it.
Though the disappearance of the case diary came to light only recently, Porwal denied any conspiracy behind it.
An advocate of the complainant later said that the Allahabad High Court will be moved in view of “undue delay in pronouncement of judgement” in the case and “mysterious disappearance” of the original case diary.
The special court for hearing dacoity-related cases was expected to deliver the verdict in the 1981 Behmai massacre case on January 6, but it allowed the defence counsel to submit written arguments by January 16, Porwal said.
Defence counsel Girish Narain Dubey had appeared before the court on January 6, seeking more time to submit written arguments and was granted 10 more days, the government counsel said.
“Bandit Queen” Phoolan Devi, who later entered politics, along with her gang members were accused of killing the 20 people belonging to the Thakur community at Behmai village in Kanpur Dehat on February 14, 1981.
The non-descript Behmai village, that drew national attention after the killings, is 170 km from state capital Lucknow and over 400 km from national capital New Delhi.
Phoolan Devi had stormed into Behmai in what was described as an attack to avenge her alleged rape there by two other bandits — Lala Ram and Sri Ram — both Thakurs, a dominant caste in the village.
Two years after the incident, she had surrendered to the Madhya Pradesh police in 1983. She then went on to become a Lok Sabha member from Mirzapur for the first time in 1996 and then in 1999 on Samajwadi Party ticket.
Initially, 35 people, including Phoolan Devi, were named as accused in the case. Eight of them were reportedly killed by police in separate encounters. Three others were reportedly absconding.
The prosecution had produced as many as 15 witnesses and seven of them were material witnesses. The process of prosecution producing evidence was closed in 2014.
The Behmai killings had led to a political fallout, with then UP chief minister V P Singh, who later became the country’s prime minister, resigning owning moral responsibility for the massacre.
As per the terms of her surrender under an amnesty scheme, then Madhya Pradesh chief minister Arjun Singh agreed to keep her in the Gwalior prison, rather than being sent to a prison in Uttar Pradesh as a result of which the summons and non-bailable warrants issued by a Kanpur court were returned unserved.
She spent 11 years in Gwalior and Jabalpur jails in Madhya Pradesh and was released in 1994 without facing trial as she kept fighting a legal battle against the UP police and the Kanpur court’s orders.
Charges against the four surviving accused were framed only in 2012.
Phoolan Devi’s release was facilitated by the withdrawal of 55 cases by then UP chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav’s government in “public interest”.
Yadav’s decision, however, was set aside by the Kanpur court, with the Allahabad High Court upholding the trial court’s decision.
Even the Supreme Court had rejected her plea for dismissal of all cases against her in December 1996.
Phoolan Devi, however, evaded arrest and waged a legal battle against it in 2001.
The apex court directed her that if she wanted relief in the cases against her, she first needed to surrender to the trial court in Kanpur.
But, that was not to be as on July 25, 2001, she was killed outside her official residence in New Delhi.
Her story was told on the big screen by noted film director Shekhar Kapoor in his movie “Bandit Queen” based on the book “India’s Bandit Queen: The True Story of Phoolan Devi” by author Mala Sen, starring Seema Biswas as the title character who won the National Film Award for Best Actress.