Sunanda death case: Several twists and turns in years of investigation

On Wednesday, a city court discharged Congress member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor in the case of domestic violence and abetting his wife’s suicide -- charges that Delhi police filed against him in their charge sheet after four years on May 1, 2018.
Sunanda Pushkar was found dead inside Hotel Leela Palace in south Delhi (PTI)
Sunanda Pushkar was found dead inside Hotel Leela Palace in south Delhi (PTI)
Updated on Aug 19, 2021 03:31 AM IST
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ByHT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

Between the evening of February 17, 2014 when Sunanda Pushkar was found dead inside Hotel Leela Palace in south Delhi, and the afternoon of May 14, 2018, when the police charged her husband Shashi Tharoor in the case, three police commissioners supervised the investigation. What was initially suspected to be a case of poisoning, according to the police, became a murder case and then suicide by an overdose of anti-depressants. During the tenure of the three police chiefs --- BS Bassi, Alok Verma and Amulya Patnaik -- the cause of Pushkar’s death and the motive for her alleged murder, changed each time the three men were heading the force.

On Wednesday, a city court discharged Congress member of Parliament Tharoor in the case of domestic violence and abetting his wife’s suicide -- charges that Delhi police filed against him in their charge sheet after four years on May 1, 2018. Usually, police have to file their charge sheet within three months.

HT takes a look at all the controversies over the police’s investigation over the years.

Case transfer

Less than a week after Pushkar was found dead, the Delhi police transferred the case to the crime branch on the morning of June 23. Until then, the case was being investigated by the south district police.The decision was reversed even before the crime branch officials could get the case files. Police then said that the case will be continued to be probed by the south district staff. The then joint commissioner of police, Vivek Gogia, who was the head of the southeastern range supervised the investigation. Gogia is currently the joint director at the National Crime Records Bureau(NCRB). A special investigation team of the local south district police filed the charge sheet in the case.

Crime scene visited again after years

The hotel suite where Pushkar was found dead was sealed for over three years. On July 17, 2017, a city court ordered the police to complete the investigation and de-seal the room. The room was finally de-sealed in October 2017. Interestingly, while there were no major developments in the case, the police team visited the room many times in all those years. The last was on September 1, 2017, when they collected “ more evidence”. One such piece of evidence was a half-filled glass of water, which was never collected by the investigating officers. The glass was then sent to the forensic science laboratory. Police also collected broken glass pieces from Pushkar’s room, months after the incident.

Murder or suicide

For almost a year, Delhi police did not register a First Information Report(FIR) in the case. On January 6, the then Delhi police commissioner BS Bassi announced registration of an FIR as the death “seemed unnatural and could be due to poisoning”. Bassi did not specify how the poison was administered. The FIR also did not name Tharoor or any other person. To be sure, Tharoor was never arrested in the case or charged with Pushkar’s murder.

Bassi did not wish to comment on the case or Wednesday’s court order.

Charge sheet on abetment of suicide

While police continued to probe Pushkar’s death as that of ‘murder’ for almost three years, the charge sheet they filed on May 14, 2018, invoked abetting suicide and domestic violence against Tharoor. Police then mentioned an overdose of Alprax tablets as the cause of her death. While denying the charges, Tharoor then said that he will “vigorously” contest the police’s charge sheet. Tharoor had termed the police’s charge sheet preposterous. When the charge sheet was filed, Amulya Patnaik was the Delhi police commissioner.

IPL and Mehr Trar probed

Besides contradictory investigation and charge sheet, Delhi police widened their gaze and probed Pushkar’s death from the angle of the Indian Premier League controversy. As part of the investigation, the then police commissioner Bassi had asked the Economic Offences Wing to prober financial irregularities related to the Kochi-IPL franchise. Tharoor had resigned as union minister during the 2010 IPL controversy after allegations of corruption linking him to the Kochi-IPL franchise. Pushkar was alleged to have received stakes for free when Tharoor was the minister in the United Progressive Alliance II government. To be sure, the Delhi police never charged Tharoor or Pushkar in the case, even as the then commissioner was quoted in print and television media about police quizzing Tharoor on the IPL controversy.

As part of their investigation, two years after Pushkar’s death, Delhi police also questioned Pakistan-based journalist Mehr Tarar because Pushkar had a public spat with her on twitter just days before her death. To be sure, Tarar said that her name was dragged into the case, only because she had chatted with Pushkar on twitter. At this time, former CBI director Alok Verma was the Delhi police commissioner.

Crime scene tampered with

A vigilance report to probe the conduct of the investigating officers pointed out lapses in the investigation and noted that the crime scene was tampered with. Used plates in her room were not collected by the investigating officers on the day of the incident. Pushkar’s body was also moved from one room to the other. The vigilance enquiry was ordered in the backdrop of such findings. Delhi police have officially not revealed the findings of the report till date.

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Wednesday, December 08, 2021