The Mumbai police and the jail administration cut a sorry figure on Thursday when it was discovered that an accused in the sensational Shakti Mills compound gang-rape case had "disappeared" and could not be produced before the court but he was later found to be in prison.
The embarrassing lapse came to light when the accused in the gang-rape case of a photojournalist were brought to the court for routine production.
Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam informed the sessions court trying the gang-rape case that accused Siraj Rehman Khan, who was lodged in Thane jail, was "untraceable".
Nikam informed this when Principal Judge Shalini Phansalkar-Joshi asked as to why Khan was not produced along with three other accused -- Vijay Jadhav, Kasim Bengali and Salim Ansari.
The judge had two days ago issued production warrant for Khan directing Thane jail officials to produce him on Thursday.
"Thane jail authorities have communicated that Siraj Rehman Khan is not in their jail, while the Mumbai crime branch says he is in the possession of Thane jail," Nikam told reporters.
The judge has now summoned Thane jail superintendent on Friday for an explanation and adjourned the case. However, Additional Director General (prisons) Meeran Borwankar has denied that Khan was untraceable.
"He is very much in the Thane jail. I spoke to the head of the Thane prison. I don't know what caused this confusion," she told PTI.
Asserting that Khan has not escaped, U T Pawar, superintendent of Thane prison said, "I am checking due to which administrative reason the accused was not produced before the court."
The young photojournalist was gang raped by the five accused, including a minor, when she had gone to the deserted Shakti Mills compound in central Mumbai on August 22 with a male colleague on assignment. The accused had tied up the victim's male companion with belts and then raped her. While four accused were sent to jail in judicial custody, the minor is lodged in a reformatory.
In a major security lapse last Saturday, Afzal Usmani, an Indian Mujahideen operative accused in the 2008 Ahmedabad bombings, had escaped from a special MaharashtraControl of Organised Crime Act court in Mumbai when he was brought for framing of charges.
The IM operative, who was brought to the MCOCA court along with 18 others from Taloja Central Jail in Navi Mumbai, is still to be tracked down. The Navi Mumbai police has suspended two policemen who escorted the suspects.
Image: Policemen stand guard near the crime scene where a photo journalist was gang-raped inside an abandoned textile mill in Mumbai
Photograph: Danish Siddique/Reuters