Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Fate of a Habeas Corpus petition, after disposal of the case by High Court, CBI finds Rajnath Sharma, the "absconding person" was killed, burnt in police custody

Who are the two persons from Bihar who were killed by U.P. police? Bihar Police informed Patna High Court in Criminal Writ Jurisdiction Case No.535 of 2022 that these two were from among those 256 persons who had absconded from their custody.

A Habeas Corpus petition -CR.WJC No.535 of 2022 was filed on April 28, 2022. It was registered on May 11, 2022. It was filed by Dhanraj Kumar Rai with an assertion that his brother Raj Nath Sharma was arrested by Kateya Police under the district of Gopalganj on June 7, 2021 from his house in connection with Kateya PS case no.189 of 2021, registered for the offence punishable under Section 302 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code but was not produced before the concerned Magistrate soon after his arrest and was traceless. A counter affidavit was filed pursuant to direction issued by Patna High Court from which it would transpire that according to the State of Bihar, after said Raj Nath Sharma was brought to the Kateya police station after his arrest, he managed to escape on the pretext of going for attending the nature’s call. In relation to his escape from the police station, Kateya P.S. Case No. 190 of 2021 was registered on June 7, 2021. 

Taking into account a lackadaisical approach of the State respondents in not taking prompt action in the matter of disappearance of Raj Nath Sharma and the role of the police officials of the State police, the High Court by an order dated February 6, 2023, while disposing of the writ petition, directed for investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into Kateya P.S. Case No. 189 of 2021 and Kateya P.S. Case no. 190 of 2021. The Court took serious view of the manner in which, according to the police, Raj Nath Sharma had escaped from the police custody and no action was being taken for locating him, directed State respondents to file an affidavit giving the details of all such persons, who, according to them, had escaped from custody of the police in the State of Bihar and were still traceless. In compliance of the said order, a supplementary counter affidavit came to be filed, sworn by the DIG, Administration (Police Headquarter), displaying alarming state of affairs. 

By the order dated December 14, 2022, the Patna High Court had directed the State of Bihar to file an affidavit, providing the details of all such persons, who had escaped from the custody of police in the State of Bihar and were still traceless. 

In compliance of the said part of the order, a supplementary counter affidavit was filed on January 3, 2023 sworn by the DIG Administration, PHQ. The said affidavit displays another alarming state of affairs. According to said affidavit, there are 256 accused persons, who have escaped from the police custody from various places in the State of Bihar and are still traceless. 

A district wise break-up of number of persons who have escaped from police custody and are still traceless shows that 68 persons escaped from Patna, 8 from Bhojpur, 3 from Buxar, 4 from Rohtas, 14 from Gaya 14,  2 from Aurangabad, 3 from Nawada, 1 from Arwal, 50 from Muzaffarpur, 7 from Sitamarhi, 1 from Vaishali, 13 from Bettiah, 11 from Motihari, 6 from Saran, 6 from Siwan, 8 from Gopalganj, 4 from Darbhanga, 2 from Madhubani, 2 from Samastipur, from 2 Saharsa, 3 from Madhepura, 8 from Supaul, 1 from Katihar, 11 from Araria, 2 from Bhagalpur, 2 from Nawgachiya, 2 from Banka,  2 from Begusarai, 1 from Khagaria, 6 from Jamui, 1 from Rail Jamalpur, 2 from Police Adhishak,  Railway, Patna.

Out of 256 persons who have escaped from the police custody and are traceless, 118 are from two districts, namely, Patna and Muzaffarpur. 

In this backdrop, Patna High Court's bench of Justices Chakradhari Sharan Singh and Rajesh Kumar Verma passed an order in Dhanraj Kumar Rai v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar on 6 February, 2023 saying, "Since, we are of the view that the investigation so far done in two cases by the State Police, namely, Kateya P.S. Case No. 189/2021 and Kateya P.S. Case No. 190/2021, does not instil confidence as their inaction is manifest and not free from doubts, we consider it desirable in the interest of justice to direct the State to transfer the Investigation of Kateya P.S. Case No. Patna High Court CR. WJC No.535 of 2022(31) dt.06-02-2023 189/2021 and Kateya P.S. Case No. 190/2021 to the Central Bureau of Investigation. Accordingly, let the entire documents of the aforesaid two cases be handed over to the Superintendent of Police, CBI, Patna, by 13.02.2023." Notably, the then SP Anand Kumar formed the SIT under the leadership of Hathua’s SDPO Naresh Kumar to search for Rajnath Sharma but could not get any clue as whether Rajnath Sharma was dead or alive.

The order reads:"Before, we part with this judgment, we express our anxiety as regards the alarming number of cases in which, the persons, who have, according to the Police, escaped from the police custody and are still traceless. The Court would expect the State respondents to inform this Court as to what action(s) do they intend to undertake in respect of those cases in which the persons, who have escaped from police custody and are traceless. For the said purpose, list this case on 13.03.2022 under the heading 'To The Mentioned' for the State to file an affidavit giving the details of proposed action." The concluding paragraph of the orders read: "This application is disposed of with the aforesaid direction and observation."  The case was heard on 37 occasions by the Division Bench. 

This order was authored Justice Chakradhari Sharan Singh. He was the Acting Chief Justice, Patna High Court on February 6, 2023. He has been Additional Judge, Patna High Court with effect from April 5, 2012. He has authored 1246 reported judgments, of which 562 were delivered during last 5 years. The Supreme Court's Collegium of Dr. Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, Chief Justice of India, Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Sanjiv Khanna recommended his name for the appointment as the Chief Justice of the High Court of Orissa November 2, 2023.

Prior to his appointment as Chief Justice of Orissa High Court , he authored the the final order dated July 5, 2023 in Dhanraj Kumar Rai v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar. The final order observes that "two affidavits have been filed, one on 18.05.2023 and the other on 23.06.2023. In the supplementary counter affidavit filed on 18.05.2023, it has been stated that efforts are being taken to arrest the accused persons who had escaped from police custody and as per the report submitted by the Superintendent of Police (STF, Bihar), 38 persons out of 256 have been either arrested by the Bihar police after 26.01.2023 to 11.05.2023 or surrendered before the police. In the supplementary counter affidavit filed on 23.06.2023, latest status of the persons apprehended till 29.05.2023 has been given. It has been stated that from the period 11.05.2023 to 15.06.2023, 28 persons have been arrested by the police, one person has surrendered, 8 persons have been released on bail and 2 persons were killed in encounter(s) with the U.P. police." 

The concluding sentence of the order states "We do not propose to pass any further order in the present matter which has already been disposed of. We, however, expect that the State police shall continue with the action initiated pursuant to this Court’s observations in the order dated 06.02.2023." 

The petitioner's counsel was Chandra Shekhar Singh, CBI's counsels were Nivedita Nirvikar, Senior Advocate and Lalan Kumar and Prabhu Narayan Sharma, AC to Advocate General represented the State of Bihar. CBI registered the FIR on March 2, 2023.  The CBI's case was pursued by the CBI team under the leadership of Inspector Mukesh Pandey. On February 7, 2024, it has been reported that CBI has disclosed that Rajnath Sharma was killed in police custody. He died because of physical assault by the police. The police had burnt his body to hide the mystery about the death of the accused. Notably, on being elevated as the Chief Justice of the High Court of Orissa, Justice Chakradhari Sharan Singh took oath on February 7, 2024.  

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