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Khwaja Yunus Custodial Death: Court Raps Prosecution for 'Lackadaisical' Approach

A sessions court said that trial in the alleged custodial death of the 27-year-old software engineer, who was an accused in the 2002 Ghatkopar blast case, has been delayed because of the prosecution dragging its feet.

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New Delhi: A sessions court in Mumbai on Tuesday said that the case against dismissed Mumbai police officer Sachin Waze and three others for the custodial death of Khwaja Yunus, a software engineer who was an accused in the 2002 Ghatkopar blast case, has been delayed because of the prosecution dragging its feet.

According to LiveLaw, the court took “strong exception to the prosecution dragging its feet in the trial”. Additional sessions judge U.J. More said that the trial has not made any progress for over 12 years “without any fault on the victim’s part”. The judge observed that the one of the main reasons for the lack of progress in the trial is the Maharashtra government’s delay in appointing a new prosecutor. The government had “unceremoniously” removed the previous special public prosecutor, LiveLaw reported.

The website reported the court saying that despite repeated reminders to the state Crime Investigation Department (CID), the police have not taken any concrete steps for proper prosecution.

According to the Indian Express, the court said:

“Record reveals that despite repeated notices and letters to police officers and prosecution, there is no concrete progress. There is a failure of police to take appropriate measures for speedy trial, which is stuck for more than 12 years without any fault of the victim. There is a lackadaisical approach on part of the prosecution in a serious case of custodial death.”

The case pertains to the death of Khwaja Yunus, a 27-year-old software engineer. He was arrested in December 2002 in connection with the Ghatkopar bomb blast case, which resulted in the death of two people. However, ten days after Yunus’s arrest, the police had claimed that he “disappeared” while being escorted to Aurangabad by a team that was led by Sachin Waze. A CID inquiry revealed that Yunus had been tortured to death by the police.

The CID inquiry indicted 14 policemen, but the government granted sanction to prosecute only four Sachin Waze, Rajendra Tiwari, Rajaram Nikam and Sunil Desai against whom the trial is being conducted.

The Mumbai police had arrested four men in the case, charging them under the Prevention of Terrorist Activities (POTA) Act, which has since been revealed. While Yunus allegedly died due to the police’s torture, the three other arrested men were acquitted of all charges by a special court.

Also Read: Sachin Waze Planned Antilia Bomb Scare to Reestablish Himself as a ‘Supercop’: NIA Chargesheet

According to LiveLaw, Dr Abdul Mateen, a man who was arrested along with Yunus, testified that four policemen had tortured the Yunus until “he vomited blood and collapsed”.

The four men named are not on trial. Special public prosecutor Dhiraj Mirajkar, who had sought to arraign the four men as accused after Mateen’s testimony, was “unceremoniously removed” in April 2018 before his application could be considered. A replacement has not been announced yet by the state government.

On Tuesday, chief public prosecutor Jaising Desai submitted to the court that the proposal for appointing a special public prosecutor is pending before the Law and Judiciary Department of the Maharashtra government, according to LiveLaw.

Yunus’s mother Asiya Begam had challenged the state government’s decision to not grant sanction to prosecute the seven other police officers who allegedly assaulted her son and the Mirajkar’s removal as special public prosecutor. While the former is pending before the Supreme Court, the latter is pending before the Bombay high court.

According to LiveLaw, before the matter was adjoured on Tuesday, the court said, “Considering the assurance by State CID/ Chief PP matter is adjourned till next date subject to direction once again to proceed with the trial which struck up since last more than 12 years and file progress report of the appointment of SPP if the prosecution wants.”

Sachin Waze’s controversial record

Waze is one of the most controversial Mumbai police officers. He is said to be involved in at least 60 extrajudicial killings. While he was suspended after being named as an accused in the Khwaja Yunus case, Waze was reinstated by the Maha Vikas Aghadi government in June 2020 as an assistant police inspector in the Crime Intelligence Unit (CIU).

By March 2021, he was arrested once again in the sensation Antilia bomb scare case. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) in its chargesheet claimed that Waze planted the bomb near business tycoon Mukesh Ambani’s house because he wanted to ‘regain his clout’ and establish himself as a ‘supercop’ or ‘encounter specialist’ once again.

Hearing in Bombay HC

The Maharashtra government told the Bombay HC on Wednesday that it would not appoint a new special public prosecutor in the Khwaja Yunus custodial death case until October 14. Additional public prosecutor Sangeeta Shinde made the statement before a division bench of Justices P.B. Varale and N.R. Borkar, which was hearing a petition filed by Yunus’ mother Asiya Begum, challenging the removal of the previous special public prosecutor Dhiraj Mirajkar from the case.

Asiya Begum approached the high court in 2018 following Mirajkar’s removal that year.

The petitioner’s counsel, Mihir Desai, on Wednesday told the bench that in July 2018, the government had given an oral assurance that pending a hearing of the plea, no fresh appointment would be made.

“However, the prosecution on Tuesday told the trial court that they are in the process of appointing someone as special prosecutor in the case. Our request is till this petition is heard, the government should not appoint anyone,” Desai said.

The bench then asked Shinde to take instructions from the state’s advocate general Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, who would be appearing in the matter. “We will give the state government an opportunity to put forth their case, but till then no appointment should be made. There should be no sudden change in prosecutor,” Justice Varale said.

Shinde then told the court that she had taken instructions from Kumbhakoni and the state law department, and assured the court that the government will not take any steps to appoint a new special prosecutor in the case till the next date of hearing.

The court then posted the matter for further hearing on October 14.

Desai told the court that Mirajkar was appointed as the special prosecutor in the case in September 2015, but was abruptly removed from the post in April 2018.

In her plea, Asiya Begum claimed the decision to remove Mirajkar came after he filed an application before the trial court, seeking summons to be issued to retired police officer Praful Bhosale and three other policemen and make them face trial on murder charges.

(With PTI inputs)