The curious case of hostile witnesses, acquittals and Dewas ‘king’ on the run
The acquittal of 12 of the 13 accused in the murder of a farmer from Raghogarh, 40km from Dewas headquarters, raises queries about the influence of the powerful and silence of the officials, legal experts said.
The main accused in the case, Vikram Singh Puar, the present ‘king’ of Dewas and son of late BJP minister Tukojirao Puar, has not been arrested yet. The Dewas court’s judgement on December 18 has acquitted all other accused in the case, which, legal experts said, had increased chances of Vikram Puar going scot-free.
Tukojirao was a six-time MLA from Dewas and twice a minister. His wife, Gayatri Raje Puar, is now the Dewas MLA.
When asked by Hindustan Times whether she or her family had used influence to turn the witnesses hostile in this case, Gayatri Puar denied. “It is the court’s judgement, I have the fullest respect for it and I don’t think anyone can influence it. I might be an MLA, but I am also a citizen and a mother seeking justice for her son.”
Asked why her son was still absconding she said, “That is something which Vikram will come and explain before the court.” Vikram’s lawyer Ashok Verma termed prosecution’s case as weak.
Vikram surfaced after he got a 15-day bail in June when his father was on death bed. He cremated his father, was crowned king and then vanished before expiry of the bail period. Police officials are silent when asked why they did not keep an eye on Vikram during the bail.
Admin made no efforts to attach Vikram’s property
In the past one year, the administration made no efforts to attach his property -- usually done when an accused absconds. Girish Mungi, who represented the government in the case, said they did not find any property in Vikram’s name.
The case was not put on the ‘special cases’ list
Though the case raised a hue and cry, it was not put on the ‘special cases’ list that is monitored by the collector and superintendent of police. In such cases, the state is represented by officials from the district prosecutors office and not government pleaders, appointed by the party in power. The witnesses’ statements were not taken before a magistrate under section 164 of CrPC. Had this been done, the witnesses would have found it difficult to retract, experts said.
Asked why the case was not put in the ‘special category’, Dewas SP Shashikant Shukla passed the buck onto his predecessor Abhay Singh, now with the CBI. Collector Ashutosh Awasthi refused to answer any query. “I have nothing to say about the matter,” he told HT. Abhay Singh said, “I have left the state and it would not be proper for me to answer any question.”
‘Family of the deceased turned hostile in court, leading to acquittals’
Officials HT talked to tried to wash their hands of the case, saying the family of Pratap Lodhi, the farmer who was killed, had turned hostile in court, leading to acquittals.
Police witnesses also turned hostile
Two police witnesses also turned hostile, and faced no action. In his judgement, Joginder Singh said, “Even the witnesses Rajesh Garwal and Jitendra Verma, who are police officials, did not support the case of the prosecution at any point ... despite being police officials totally resiled from their earlier statement.”
Asked why no action had been taken against them, the SP said, “I will have to look into the policemen’s statements.”
Apart from the investigating officer, inspector Sarita Choudhary who was heading the Baroth police station where the case was registered, everyone turned hostile.
‘We lost the case as everyone turned hostile’
“There was nothing wrong with the investigation, but it pained me that we lost the case as everyone turned hostile,” said Choudhary, who has been transferred to Indore.
Attempts to contact Pratap’s wife Resham Bai were stonewalled by family members. “The court has given its verdict, we have to obey it,” said Nararayan Singh, uncle of the deceased.
Local journalists, lawyers say the family has been bought over. “Given the influence of the Puars, it is not surprising,” said a journalist.
Ashok Verma said, “Apart from main witnesses turning hostile, the FIR talked about Pratap dying of bullet injury and postmortem report negated it; this went against them.
On March 19, 2015, Vikram Puar and his 12 armed supporters went to the farm of Pratap Lodhi and others, and tried to snatch their produce. It is a 14 hectare land worth crores, and a civil case is pending in Dewas court. The two groups clashed; firearms and lathis were used in which three persons were injured, including Pratap Lodhi who was hit on his head. Pratap died of injuries on March 22. Everyone was charged under sections 302, 147, 148, 149 and 324 of IPC and sections 25 and 27 of the Arms Act.