Forensics cleared Pehlu clips, police versions raised doubts
Two video clips that captured a mob attacking dairy farmer Pehlu Khan in Rajasthan’s Alwar were cleared as genuine by a government forensic lab, but contradictory statements by investigating officers undercut their authenticity and prevented them from being treated as key evidence, HT has found.
According to the forensic report, seen by HT, the two separate videos shot on April 1, 2017 – which captured a mob attacking the 55-year-old Khan – were not tampered with. “No discontinuity has been detected in two separate videos of the incident,” read the report issued by the State Forensic Science Laboratory, Jaipur, and dated July 10, 2018.
In her judgment of August 14, additional district judge Sarita Swami mentioned the forensic report in a sentence, but it was not considered a key piece of evidence. Swami noted that two of the four investigating officers in the case — Ramesh Sinsinwar and Parmal Singh — said the videos were not sent for forensic examination even when the forensic lab report was part of the court records.
The forensic report showed that the videos were received by the lab on January 11, 2018 — almost two-and-a-half months after the charge sheet was filed in the case, and more than eight months after Khan died of injuries suffered in the mob attack.
The verdict acquitted six people who were arrested and identified on the basis of the aforementioned videos. The judgment also noted several lapses in the probe that made Swami give the accused the “benefit of the doubt”.
Swami also criticised the police for not submitting the phone that shot the videos in court, failing to establish the ownership of the device, and inconsistencies in the chain of events between the video being shot and it ending up in police custody.
“To not confiscate the phone from which the video was found…shows the grave negligence of the authorities,” read the judgment.
The government has ordered a probe into the alleged lapses and said it will appeal against the August 14 verdict in the high court. Three more accused in the case are minors.
Public prosecutor Yogendra Singh did not respond to calls and text messages. Deputy inspector general, special operation group, Nitin Deep Blaggan, who is heading the special investigation team (SIT) looking into the alleged lapses in investigation, said it was too early to comment on any aspect of the investigation yet. Sinsinwar and Parmal Singh did not respond when reached for comment.
But another senior police officer, who is re-examining the evidence, said that the contradictory statements favoured the six accused. He also said a man identified by police as owner of the phone turned hostile in court. “No effort was made to prove that he owned the phone and the videos were genuine,” the officer said on condition of anonymity.
A second police officer, also a member of the team looking at alleged lapses, said: “We are trying to find out why the phone and video of the attack were sent for forensic examination after charge sheet was filed and why the phone was not submitted before the court.”
On April 1, 2017, Khan was attacked by a mob on the Delhi-Jaipur highway near Behror in Rajasthan’s Alwar district while he was transporting cattle from a market in Jaipur to his home in Nuh, Haryana. He named six people as his attackers in his dying declaration, but all of them were cleared by police on the basis of call records and testimony by witnesses.
Police then charged a new set of nine people – three of them minors – on the basis of videos of the attack.
From here on, the statements diverged.
Sinsinwar told the court that he got the video from a source, transferred it to his phone and extracted photographs from it. The accused were arrested on the basis of these photos but he did not send it for forensic examination, he told the court.
“Sinsinwar has said that he transferred the video from the mobile of Ravindra Yadav and got photos developed, he did not seize his [own] phone, did not produce it in court nor sent if for FSL examination,” the judgment read.
Parmal Singh told the court of a different chain of events. He said the video was obtained from the mobile phone of a person identified as Ravindra Kumar. Singh seized the phone but didn’t send it for forensic examination, he told the court.
“Parmal Singh, IO, denied sending mobile for FSL examination but FSL report of the said mobile is part of the charge sheet as an exhibit,” the judgment read. Kumar, an independent witness and the man who developed the photos from the video later turned hostile in court and refused to back the police’s version of events.
The third investigating officer, Govind Detha, did not do anything about the phones. He investigated the six people named by Khan and cleared them.
The fourth investigating officer, Mahaveer Singh Shekhawat, finally sent the phone for FSL examination but did not submit it in court during the trial.
Bhanwar Singh Chouhan, a senior advocate practising in the Rajasthan high court, said the phone should have been submitted in court.
“Not producing the phone which is a primary evidence by the prosecution during trial is a serious negligence. In these circumstances, the benefit of the doubt goes to the accused in a criminal case,” he added.