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Phoolan ‘killer’ walks

New Delhi, Feb. 17: Phoolan Devi’s suspected killer walked out of the main gate of Tihar Jail under the noses of police officials this morning in an escape re-enacted from a Bollywood potboiler.

One of the 11 accused in the murder and the man alleged to have pulled the trigger on the bandit queen-turned-MP, Sher Singh Rana left with associates who had arrived at the jail posing as policemen with a warrant to produce him in a Hardwar court. Rana was due to appear in the court today in connection with a case under the Gangster Act.

Deputy commissioner of police (crime) Dependra Pathak said Rana alias Pankaj escaped around 7 am. The crime branch, which had investigated Phoolan Devi’s murder, has been asked to probe the escape as well.

An associate of Rana approached the jail authorities, introducing himself as constable Arvind Kumar of the 3rd Battalion of Delhi Armed Police, Pathak said. He showed a production warrant purported to have been issued by a Hardwar magistrate, seeking Rana’s presence in his court.

Director-general (Tihar) Ajay Agarwal said the man presented his Delhi police service batch number as 4882. It appeared that the jail authorities allowed Rana to go without running a check on the documents, he added.

Out of prison, Rana was taken into a van resembling a police vehicle waiting outside Gate No. 3, the main entrance and exit gate of the high-security jail, police said. He was driven away in the van, in which some more persons were sitting, sources added.

The jail authorities found out about the great escape only when the real Delhi Armed Police team arrived an hour later to seek Rana’s custody to produce him in the Uttaranchal court. This triggered an alarm and a case was registered at Hari Nagar police station in West Delhi, the deputy commissioner said.

Three senior jail officials — deputy superintendent V.D. Pushkarna, assistant superintendent Prem Chand, the duty officer, and guard Ramesh Chander — have been suspended for dereliction of duty. Pushkarna was heading the department that authorises prisoners to be handed over to police for production in a court, Agarwal said.

Police questioned at least four jail staff members suspected to be aware of the escape. A magisterial inquiry has been ordered.

Rana is alleged to have shot dead Phoolan Devi outside her Ashoka Road residence in Delhi on July 25, 2001.

Soon after he was named prime suspect, Rana surrendered to the police in Dehra Dun but pleaded innocence. He claimed that he was behind bars in a Hardwar prison at the time of the murder. However, the police later found out that one of his associates, also called Pankaj, had engineered the alibi.

Later, Rana allegedly told the police that he had killed the bandit queen to take revenge for the 1983 Behmai massacre.

Delhi police have announced a reward of Rs 50,000 for any information about Rana, who hails from Roorkee. A red alert has been sounded in Delhi and Uttaranchal.

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