A court in Howrah on Wednesday set free Rakhal Das and five associates, charged with the gruesome murder of Prabhat Bhattacharya, an iron scrap dealer.
Second additional district and sessions judge Kanchan Chatterjee, while acquitting Rakhal and his associates, observed that the charges levelled against them could not be established by police.
On December 17, 2001, Prabhat had gone to Das’ house on Lalmohan Mukherjee Street, in the Bally police station area, to discuss an iron-scrap auction.
The next day, Prabhat’s body, was recovered with multiple stab injuries from a pond near Das’ house.
Prabhat’s relatives lodged a police complaint that Das, a local BJP strongman, and his associates had stabbed him to death and then dumped his body in the pond.
“But the government lawyer could not prove the charges, including that of murder. So, I am acquitting the accused persons,” judge Chatterjee said on Monday.
After the judge’s ruling, the crowded courtroom went unusually quiet, as Das and the five other acquitted walked free.
The acquittals left a section of police officers and lawyers “stunned”. Police had submitted the chargesheet on June 28, 2002.
“When police submitted their chargesheet, they must have gathered enough evidence to support their charges against Das and his associates. But on Monday, we found to our surprise that they could not prove even a single point,” said a lawyer present in the packed courtroom.
A police officer later admitted to “several lapses” on the part of law-enforcing agencies.
“Our lawyer could not present the case convincingly. We could not even prove that Prabhat’s body was recovered from a pond, even though we actually did so. Who do you think is responsible for this'” he asked.
No answers were forthcoming. Certainly not from public prosecutor Chinmoy Chowdhury who refused comment.
“Kaata ghayey keno nuner chhitey dichhen (Why are you rubbing salt into the wound)'” he was heard asking an acquaintance in court.
Lawyers felt that the case against Das and his associates would not have fallen so flat had the government counsel pleaded more strongly.
A section of police and lawyers insisted that the chargesheet was “strong” and yet, curiously, the charges could not be proved.
“We never realised that such a strong chargesheet submitted by us would fall through like this. We are all shocked,” said an officer on the case, requesting anonymity.
A lawyer pointed out that the advocates on behalf of Das had stressed the point that Das had not been arrested from Puri, as shown in the police records.
“But the government’s counsel could not even counter this argument. No wonder the government these days cannot win most cases that are being fought in various courts around the state,” said a lawyer, bitingly.
“We have been working hard on this case since December 2001. We have built it up brick by brick and we are happy that our hard work has finally been rewarded,” said Snehamoy Mukherjee, counsel for Das and the others.