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Khwaja Yunus death case: Sachin Vaze’s role and a case that lingers on since 2003

In the meantime, out of 19 people arrested in connection to the Ghatkopar blast, two, including Yunus, died, and nine were discharged. On June 11, 2005, the special POTA court acquitted the remaining eight accused.

Sachin Vaze, the Mumbai Police officer who has been making headlines since he was reinstated in 2020 in Mumbai Police, has a ‘tainted’ record at service. Popular as an encounter specialist, Vaze’s name was involved in Khwaja Yunus death case, which was picked in connection to a 2002 bomb blast. It has been almost two decades since Yunus allegedly died in police custody, but Vaze’s role has remained untried in court.  

History of the case

On December 2, 2002, a bomb went off in a BEST bus parked outside Ghatkopar railway station. As it was a rush hour in the evening, there were many people at the station. The blast claimed the lives of two and injured 50 people.

Vaze was part of the Mumbai crime branch team that picked a few people on December 25. 27-year-old software engineer Khwaja Yunus was one of them. On January 7, 2003, police-reported that Yunus went missing from the custody. They claimed that he escaped with two other accused when they were being transferred to Aurangabad. It was alleged that the vehicle they were in met with an accident in Ahmednagar district that gave them a chance to escape. An FIR was registered in connection to the alleged escape at the Parner Police Station.

Yunus’ body was never recovered.

Yunus was beaten – alleged another accused Mateen

the special Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) court in Mumbai conducted an enquiry into the alleged accident. During the course of the enquiry, another accused in the case Mateen, revealed that he had heard Yunus being beaten. He further added that Yunus was vomiting in an adjacent cell after getting beaten up. He claimed that Yunus possibly died on January 6. CID took over the alleged custodial death case in May 2003.

An encounter specialist with Mumbai Police had said that Yunus had died due to third degree interrogation used by Vaze. He had said that, “Sachin punched Yunus in the stomach and poured a bucket of cold water on him. The fragile Yunus died on the spot.”

As there was no information about the case, Sayed Khwaja Ayub, Yunus’s father, moved to Bombay High Court and filed an appeal that the case should be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation. On February 25, 2004, CID finally announced that they had a breakthrough in the case and found some evidence. They arrested Vaze on March 3. Three more policemen were arrested later in March. All four of them were suspended, pending investigation.

In April 2004, the High Court asked CID to record a fresh statement of Mateen and treat it as the FIR in the alleged custodial death case of Yunus. The state appealed against the order in the Supreme Court but lost. A fresh FIR was registered in the Ghatkopar Police Station in September 2004 against Vaze. Three other police personnel, constables Rajendra Tiwari, Sunil Desai and driver Rajaram Nikam were also named for allegedly beating Yunus to death in custody. The probe was completed in October 2006, and a charge sheet was filed by CID against 14 policemen, including Vaze and other three suspended ones.

In the meantime, out of 19 people arrested in connection to the Ghatkopar blast, two, including Yunus, died, and nine were discharged. On June 11, 2005, the special POTA court acquitted the remaining eight accused.

In July 2007, the office of Director General of Police forwarded case papers to the state that accorded sanction to prosecute only four suspended police officers. On March 19, 2011, an additional sessions judge framed charges against Vaze and other three cops.

While the investigation was going on, Asiya Begum, mother of Yunus, filed a petition in the Bombay High Court and asked for compensation. She also sought sanction to prosecute seven more Police officers in addition to the four. In April 2012, the Bombay High Court ordered the state to pay Rs.20 Lakh to Yunus’ family as compensation. However, it rejected Begum’s plea to prosecute other police officers. Begum appealed against the decision in the Supreme Court, where the case is still pending.

The trial in Yunus’s death

In January 2018, the prosecution examined Dr Abdul Mateen, another accused in the blast case and first witness in Yunus’s death case. During his deposition, he named four more cops, Praful Bhosle, Hemant Desai, Rajaram Vhanmane and Ashok Khot, who allegedly assaulted Yunus. They were also named in the charge sheet filed by CID in 2006.

Based on his testimony, special public prosecutor Mirazkar moved an application to add the named of the four policemen to the list of accused. However, the state government claimed that the application was filed without taking instruction. Mirazkar was removed as the special public prosecutor. The state’s notification was challenged by Yunus’s mother in the High court.

Yunus’s mother continues to fight for justice

In June 2020, though Vaze had resigned from the force in 2007 and had joined the Shiv Sena, he and the three other police personnel were reinstated by order of the Maharashtra government citing lack of personnel during the pandemic.

In 2020, Asiya Begum filed a petition in the Bombay High Court challenging the reinstatement of Vaze. She claimed that chief secretary Amitabh Gupta and Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh do not have the power to set aside 2004 suspension orders. She also stated that as the trial against the four suspended police officers was pending, a review committee cannot set aside the suspension orders. The state argued that the petitioner did not have a locus as reinstatement was an administrative decision.

A division bench of justices KK Tated and Riyaz Chagla last heard the petition on March 9, 2021. The next hearing is on March 31.

Yunus’ family reacts to Vaze’s arrest

After learning about the suspension of Sachin Vaze following the arrest by NIA on March 15, Hussain Sayed Khwaja Ayub Yunus, Khwaja Yunus’s brother, said that in the house of God, there might be delay injustice, but there is no place for injustice. He said that his reinstatement let the ball rolling for the current case to pile up against Vaze.

Yunus’s body was never recovered. His family is still fighting to get justice for his custodial death. Sachin Vaze’s role in Yunus’s alleged death in police custody stands untried in court.

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Anurag
B.Sc. Multimedia, a journalist by profession.

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