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Cops, jail staff, doctors lax in Tihar murder

New Delhi: Delhi Police, jail authorities, and prison doctors, all allegedly violated rules at every level in the case of gangster Ankit Gujjar’s alleged murder inside Tihar, and interventions from all three were either delayed or in violation of prescribed procedure, according to case papers seen by HT
PUBLISHED ON SEP 11, 2021 12:00 AM IST

New Delhi: Delhi Police, jail authorities, and prison doctors, all allegedly violated rules at every level in the case of gangster Ankit Gujjar’s alleged murder inside Tihar, and interventions from all three were either delayed or in violation of prescribed procedure, according to case papers seen by HT.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is probing Gujjar’s death after the Delhi high court on Wednesday transferred the case to the agency while calling the incident a “serious offence, which required in-depth investigation”. The case was earlier with Delhi Police.

Gujjar, 29, one of western Uttar Pradesh’s most wanted men who had at least 13 cases in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh against him, was, according to a complaint by his family, beaten to death by prison officers inside Tihar’s jail 3 on August 3. The prison department have said Gujjar and two others were injured in a scuffle that broke out after jail officers confiscated a cell phone, data cable, and a knife inside Gujjar’s cell.

HT has accessed copies of the FIR, the status report filed by the police and jail authorities, and the prison’s inquiry report, which show how authorities appeared to cover up Gujjar’s murder, and the Delhi Police failed to intervene in time.

Here, according to official documents, are how each of the branches acted, and how they fell short of taking measures that could have saved the life of the prisoner, who was facing trial in at least five cases registered across police stations in the Capital.

Delhi PoliceGujjar’s family made 16 distress calls to the Delhi Police control room informing them that Gujjar had been beaten inside the jail, according to a status reportprepared by the police and submitted to the high court. The first call was made at 10.55pm on August 3, within three to four hours of the initial scuffle inside the jail, when Gujjar was still alive.The family was first informed by another prisoner, who came out on bail on the evening of August 3, and called Gujjar’s house in Baghpat. The man claimed to have seen jail officers beating Gujjar. Despite the 16 calls, Delhi Police entered the jail only after learning about Gujjar’s death the following day.

The FIR related to Gujjar’s murder shows that a police officer visited the jail office after the distress call, but did not go inside the cells where the alleged scuffle took place, or where Gujjar was lodged after the incident.

Neither the FIR nor the police’s status report mentions a visit by any officer to Gujjar’s cell.

When police did not directly check on Gujjar on the night of August 3, Gujjar’s family, who live in Baghpat, Uttar Pradesh, reached the Hari Nagar police station at 4am on August 4 and asked the police to intervene. The distance from Baghpat to Hari Nagar police station in Delhi is about 50km.

The case papers also show that police officers met the prime suspect in the case, deputy superintendent of police Narendra Meena, at the Deen Dayal Upadhyay (DDU) hospital at 11.11pm (August 3). Two hours later, at 1.10 am (August 4), Delhi Police filed an FIR against Gujjar, in which the prison officers alleged that Gujjar had beaten the jailors.

The case against Gujjar, FIR number 434/2021 was registered under sections of 186,332,353 and 34 (related to assaulting public servant on duty), but police did not file any case against the jail officers. A case of murder against the jail officers was registered only on August 9, on the directions of a city court. This FIR, under Section 302 (murder), named deputy superintendent Meena.

Gujjar’s lawyer Mehmood Pracha accused the Delhi Police of trying to cover up the jail officers’ crime.

“The victim’s family made a distress call to save his life, but the police conveniently met the accused people instead of the victims. The police only met accused jail officer in hospital, but did not meet Gujjar. They also agreed to the jail officer’s version of events. Should they not meet the victim first and verify the facts?”

Experts said that the Delhi Police should have entered the prison cell and checked on Gujjar. Vikram Singh, former director general of the Uttar Pradesh police, said if there is a distress call, police have every right to enter the prison.

“It is a distress call -- somebody made a call for help. Normally when there is an inspection or a visit, police or other agencies inform and coordinate with the prison department. But if there is a distress call, and a complaint has been filed, police have every right to enter the jail. I remember an episode in 2008 at UP’s Sultanpur jail, when police entered the prison and helped stop a riot. Police are trained to deal with different situations.”

A senior Delhi Police officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said it will not be appropriate to comment at this stage because the case is being investigated by the CBI.

Tihar jail authoritiesDelhi Police, in their statement in the case FIR, filed on August 9, have noted that one of their officers, assistant sub inspector Ram Avtar, visited jail number 3 of Tihar after receiving a 10.55pm distress call from Gujjar’s family. Police accused the jail officers of not allowing them to enter the jail. The FIR mentions that when ASI Avtar visited jail 3, deputy superintendent Vinay Thakur informed him about a scuffle between prisoners and the jail staff.

Thakur, according to the FIR, told the police officer to “come later in the day” because “treatment had been provided to Ankit Gujjar”. The FIR also mentions that the jail officers told police Gujjar suffered “minor injuries” after a “minor scuffle”.

A statement to the police by a witness, prisoner Vikas alias Veeru, seen by HT, says that during the scuffle, deputy superintendent Meena requested the jail superintendent to blow the siren and sound an emergency. Vikas has alleged that the superintendent did not give permission to blow the siren.

To be sure, the siren inside the jail is sounded when an incident requires intervention of the topmost officials, who have to visit the prison cells immediately and take necessary action.

Vikas’s statement is important because he was not just an inmate but was also a “sewadar” who helped jail officers at the control room. Sewadars are prisoners chosen to help jail officers manage the prison. Vikas, who claimed to be part of the search team that inspected Gujjar’s cell, alleged in his statement related to the FIR registered against jail officers, that the prison authorities ordered the CCTVs be turned off during the scuffle, after which around “50 jailers with dandas” assaulted Gujjar.

HT on September 4 reported how the CCTV cameras, which could have recorded the scuffle and the events thereafter, were switched off because of “maintenance work”. The Delhi high court on Wednesday also asked the state government and prison director general asking them for “immediate remedial” action to ensure that “unscruplous officers do not take advantage of the knowledge of non working of CCTVs” and get away by doing “any illegal act/ offences”.

Also, while Delhi Police was unable to enter the jail, Gujjar’s family, who reached the Hari Nagar police station, sent an email to the superintendent informing them about the incident. There was no response.

The high court on Wednesday also directed the prison department to set in place a mechanism, by which “immediate entry is provided to the police on receipt of information of a cognisable offence”.

A senior Tihar jail officer said, “Four jail officers including the alleged accused were suspended immediately. Eight others including the jail’s superintendent were transferred to ensure a fair probe. The departmental inquiry has found some other prison officers of jail 3, who were negligent in their duty. Appropriate action will be taken against them too. The prison headquarters is cooperating with the investigating agency and will assist in all forms to aid the investigation.”

Jail doctorsThe Delhi high court on Wednesday also noted that when Gujjar was injured, his life could have been saved if proper medical treatment was provided. The high court has also asked CBI to probe the role of jail doctors in this regard.

Papers seen by HT show how the doctors failed to provide treatment to Gujjar.

After the scuffle inside jail 3, Gujjar was shifted from his cell in ward 5 to ward 1A. The post-mortem report conducted by a medical board at All India Institute of Medical Sciences shows he suffered 12 grievous injuries on his neck, eyes, chest, abdomen, hands, back, knees, and collar bone among other parts of his body.

But the jail doctors, who visited Gujjar at 1.10 am (August 4), gave him a painkiller, according to the prison’s inquiry report. Meanwhile, the prime suspect Meena, on the advice of the doctors, checked himself into the DDU hospital. The prison doctors in their statement to police have claimed that “Gujjar refused treatment”.

On the morning of August 4, during the roll call of inmates, Gujjar was found dead inside cell 1A of Tihar jail 3.

The high court has also asked the CBI to probe the role of the jail doctors.

Gujjar’s counsel Mehmood Pracha said every branch of the government worked together to ensure no case was filed because Gujjar’s death “exposed an extortion racket inside the prison”.

He said, “We have also submitted proof in the form of bank statements about money Gujjar’s family paid the jail officers. We urged for a CBI investigation because this is not just a murder but a case that exposes the extortion inside Tihar by senior officers. There is no reason why doctors would just administer painkillers. It is convenient for them to say Gujjar refused treatment. The Delhi Police did not register a case and was forced to do so only on the court’s orders. Instead, they met the jail officers and file case against the deceased.”

Prisons expert, advocate Ajay Verma, convener of the National Forum for Prison Reforms, a group of lawyers that works to implement reforms across prisons in the country, said, “The high court found merit in the allegations of the family and has ordered a CBI inquiry. So what if the man is an alleged gangster? He also has rights guaranteed by the Constitution.”

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