Byculla jail death: how is it accidental, HC asks authorities

Prison authorities claim inmate Manjula Shete fell unconscious, died

Published - July 25, 2017 01:00 am IST - Mumbai

Expressing unhappiness over the probe into the death of an inmate of Byculla women’s prison, the Bombay High Court said the Mumbai Police Crime Branch is leaving no stone unturned to ensure it is seen as an accidental death.

Inmate Manju Shette, 45, who was serving a life sentence, died at the government-run JJ Hospital on June 23, sparking a riot by over 200 inmates. While inmates alleged she was assaulted by jail officials, prison authorities informed the HC on Monday that she died after falling unconscious.

A Division Bench comprising Justices R.M. Savant and Sadhana Jadhav said, “Till date, you [Crime Branch] have left no stone unturned to see to it that it is seen as an accidental death. How can you treat this as accidental death? We have no words to say about your carelessness.”

The HC was hearing a PIL filed by Pune resident Pradeep Bhalekar, who has sought that the probe into the death be transferred to the State Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Mr. Bhalekar has also sought that IPC sections 377 (unnatural offences) and section 354 (assault or criminal force on woman with the intent to outrage her modesty) be added to the FIR. He has also sought for a vigilance committee to monitor prisons. The plea also wants the Anti-Corruption Bureau to probe the Jail Superintendent and Director General (Prisons) for corruption and discrepancies in jail food supply.

An affidavit was submitted by jailor Tanaji Gharbudave said, “The Metropolitan Magistrate of Vile Parle visited the female barrack of the prison and said no woman prisoner complained to her about anything. No female inmate or deceased Manjula complained about any incident or assault. On June 23, 2017, Manjula collapsed and was immediately examined by Dr Khan, medical officer at Byculla prison, and the ambulance left with her for further medical treatment at JJ Hospital. I say that there is no negligence on the part of the jail authorities in the treatment of Manjula Shete.”

Another affidavit filed by the Senior Police Inspector of Nagpada police station said, “On June 23, 2017 at 9.25 p.m. the Nagpada police station got a call from Duty Constable Bhagare at JJ Hospital saying the inmate, namely, Manjula Shette was brought to the hospital and because she fell and became unconscious at the Byculla prison, Dr. Vishwas Roke declared her dead at 9.30 p.m. prior to admission to the hospital.”

The affidavit records the statement of jailor Manisha Pokharkar that reads, “On June 23, 2017 I was at Byculla District Prison from 9 a.m. to 6.35 p.m. and there was no complaint to me by any prisoner or staff regarding any illness or any incident or any assault on deceased Manjula Shete.”

The court was irked with differences in the post mortem report and death information certificate issued by JJ Hospital. “The post mortem report observed injuries on the body of the victim, but the certificate issued by one Vishwesh Rote, doctor of JJ hospital, says ‘no obvious external injuries noted,’” the Bench said. Justice Savant said, “ Prima facie we find that the post mortem report and the certificate do not gel. The Crime Branch should immediately record the statement of the doctors to get a clearer picture.”

The court, after perusing affidavits filed by the police and jail authorities, said it was not satisfied with the manner and the direction in which the investigation was moving. “We are not at all happy with the investigation. You [crime branch] should be taking it seriously. Are you shielding someone? Is this how you treat all other cases too? This is not just about the death of one person. It is in the larger interest of the society. People are losing faith in the authorities,” Justice Jadhav said.

The Bench directed the Crime Branch to complete the recording of statements of witnesses and doctors concerned expeditiously and file a status report on July 31, when the matter will be heard again.

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