Khwaja Yunus case: Sachin Vaze’s role remains untried in court
The trial against four policemen including suspended cop Sachin Vaze, implicated in the alleged custodial death Sayed Khwaja Yunus Sayed Ayub, a 2002 Ghatkopar blast accused, has been held up since 2018, shortly after it began, for the want of a special public prosecutor.
Vaze and three constables were suspended from the police force in 2004 after they were arrested in connection with the death of the 27-year-old engineer in January 2003.
The police, who had picked up Yunus in connection with the terror attack, claimed that Yunus had escaped while being transported to another district from Mumbai and had fallen into a gorge. However, an eyewitness later revealed that Yunus was allegedly beaten to death during interrogation.
Yunus’s body was never recovered.
In 2018, the eyewitness, Dr Abdul Mateen – also a suspect in the Ghatkopar blast case -- named four more policemen in the alleged custodial killing, which led special public prosecutor Dhiraj Mirazkar to move an application to include the cops in the list of accused.
The state issued a notice removing Mirazkar as the special public prosecutor stating that he filed the application without seeking instructions.
Mirazkar was unavailable for comments despite attempts to get in touch with him.
“The case is now pending over the issue of the appointment or rather removal of the special public prosecutor,” said Vaze’s lawyer Raunak Naik.
The Crime Investigation Department (CID) filed a First Information Report (FIR) against Vaze and three other policemen – constables Rajendra Tiwari, Sunil Desai and driver Rajaram Nikam – in 2004 for allegedly beating Yunus to death while he was in custody.
History of the case
On December 2, 2002, a bomb went off in a BEST bus parked outside Ghatkopar railway station, during the evening rush hour, killing two and injuring over 50 people.
The Mumbai crime branch, of which Vaze was part, picked up a few persons including Yunus on December 25.
On January 7, 2003, Yunus was reported missing from police custody. The police claimed that he escaped with two other accused while they were being taken to Aurangabad when the vehicle carrying them met with an accident in Ahmednagar district.
An FIR was registered in connection with the incident at the Parner police station.
However, during an enquiry into the so-called accident conducted by the special Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) court in Mumbai, Mateen, who was also one of the accused, revealed that he had heard Yunus being beaten, and later vomiting, in an adjacent cell.
Mateen claimed that Yunus had likely died on January 6. This testimony was corroborated by a third accused in the case.
The alleged custodial death case was handed over to the CID in May 2003.
However, after seven months of no information, Yunus’s father Sayed Khwaja Ayub moved the Bombay high court requesting that the Central Bureau of Investigation probe the disappearance of his son.
On February 25, 2004, the CID team said that they had found some evidence in connection to Yunus’s disappearance and arrested Vaze on March 3. The other three policemen were arrested later that month. All four were placed under suspension, pending investigation.
In April, the high court directed the CID to record a fresh statement from Mateen and treat that as the FIR in the alleged custodial death case. The state appealed against this direction in the Supreme Court and lost, and eventually, a fresh FIR was registered in the Ghatkopar police station on September 16, 2004.
The CID completed its probe in October 2006 and filed a charge sheet against 14 policemen, including the four suspended cops.
In July 2007, the office of the Director General of Police forwarded the case papers to the state government, which accorded sanction to prosecute only the four suspended cops.
An additional sessions judge framed charges against Vaze, Tiwari, Desai and Nikam, on March 19, 2011.
In the meantime, Yunus’s mother, Asiya Begum, amended her petition pending before the Bombay HC for compensation and other connected prayers, and sought sanction to prosecute seven more Crime Branch personnel, in addition to the four suspended cops.
In April 2012, the HC directed the state to pay Yunus’s family a compensation of ₹20 lakh, but rejected Begum’s plea regarding the prosecution of more policemen. Begum appealed against this verdict in the Supreme Court, and the matter is still pending before the apex court.
Yunus’s brother, Hussain Sayed Khwaja Ayub Yunus said that their petition has not come up as yet. “It has not even been heard. We unfortunately do not have means to appoint a special lawyer for the Supreme Court. It is like justice delayed and justice denied.”
Meanwhile, of the 19 persons arrested in connection with the Ghatkopar blast case, nine were discharged from the case and two, including Khwaja, died. On June 11, 2005, the special POTA court acquitted the remaining eight accused.
The trial in Yunus’s death
In January 2018, the prosecution examined Mateen, its first witness in the case.
“After Mateen, no other witness has been examined,” advocate Naik said.
In his deposition, Mateen named four cops who had also allegedly assaulted Yunus, and whose names were also part of the charge sheet filed by the CID in 2006: Praful Bhosle, Hemant Desai, Rajaram Vhanmane and Ashok Khot.
On the basis of this testimony, special public prosecutor Mirazkar moved an application to add these four policemen in the list of accused and to try them alongside Vaze and the three constables.
A controversy erupted over this with the state government claiming that the application was filed without taking instructions. The state issued a notification removing Mirzkar as the special public prosecutor.
Yunus’s mother challenged the state’s notification in the Bombay high court.
Meanwhile, in 2016, Vaze filed a petition before the HC challenging the framing of charges against him.
Vaze resigned from the force in 2007 and joined the Shiv Sena, but he – and the three other suspended constables -- were reinstated in January 2020.
Asiya Begum’s fight continues
Asiya Begum filed a petition in the Bombay high court challenging their reinstatement last year.
She claimed that the review committee which included chief secretary Amitabh Gupta and Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh did not have the authority to set aside the 2004 suspension order and hence the reinstatement order should be set aside.
The state argued that the petitioner did not have a locus as the reinstatement order was an administrative decision.
The petition had also stated that while the trial against the four suspended cops was pending, the review committee could not have issued orders to reinstate them.
The petition was last heard on March 9, 2021 by a division bench of justices K K Tated and Riyaz Chagla. The hearing was adjourned to March 31 as Begum’s advocate Mihir Desai sought time to place the translated copies of official documents before the court.
Yunus’ family reacts to Vaze’s arrest
“Upar wale ke paas der hain, par andher nahi [there may be delay but not injustice in the house of God],” Hussain Sayed Khwaja Ayub Yunus, Khwaja Yunus’s brother said, after assistant police inspector Sachin Vaze was suspended on Monday, following his arrest by the National Investigation Authority, in connection with the explosives-laden car found outside billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s home last month.
“If he had not be reinstated this would not have happened,” Hussain, 53, added.
Yunus’s family has been fighting a long battle for justice since his custodial death in 2003, in which Vaze and three other cops were arrested and suspended. The first petition was filed by his father Sayyed Khwaja Ayub in 2004, before the Bombay high court. After Ayub died in 2004, Yunus’s mother Asiya Begum took the fight further.
“I lost my father. Mother is almost 75 years now. It has been close to 20 years and still we don’t see any hope in case. When will this be over?” Hussain said referring to the trial against the four policemen implicated in his brother’s death.
“The trial had just begun when they removed special public prosecutor and now there is none. When will the trial see the light of the day? We just want justice,” Hussain said.
“We unfortunately do not have means to appoint a special lawyer for Supreme Court. It is like justice delayed and justice denied,” Hussain said.