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Rediff.com  » News » Sheena Bora Trial: Indrani wants to argue her case for bail

Sheena Bora Trial: Indrani wants to argue her case for bail

Last updated on: October 05, 2018 12:21 IST

Accused No 1 announced that there had been a change in the circumstances of her health condition.
She produced a thick 19-page document, written in her neat, very feminine handwriting, detailing her condition, its symptoms and the consequences it could have on her health and well-being.
Vaihayasi Pande Daniel reports from the Sheena Bora murder trial.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com

Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com

It would be mighty hard for Colonel Shubhodoy Mukherjee to ever forget Sheena Bora.

His efficient assistant who disappeared.

Probably one of the more promising employees of Mumbai Metro One Pvt Ltd working under him, in the HR and admin department he headed, Colonel Mukherjee, now senior vice-president at the company, remembered Sheena to be a "very hardworking and sincere person" who joined his department in 2011.

One not-very-out-of-the-ordinary Tuesday in April 2012, this young employee requested permission from Colonel Mukherjee to take a half day off for some personal work, leaving work at 3.30 pm.

She didn't come back the next day. Or ever after.

She never returned to her cubicle at the Andheri, north west Mumbai, office of the company which is ambitiously building Mumbai's Rs 21,000 crore (Rs 210 billion) metro, where she assisted the department with general HR tasks apart from handling recruitment and the onboarding of new staff.

Colonel Mukherjee never set eyes on her again.

He did hear from her that day (Tuesday, April 24, the day Sheena Bora was murdered) or on April 25, he was not sure, when she sent an sms, from one of the two cell numbers she used, asking for two additional days of leave which he said he "okayed on sms."

But after that she vanished, never to be heard of again.

 

Initially he thought she had just extended her leave a few days further and had callously forgotten to inform the office or him.

But when the days extended to nearly a week and then beyond that, without a word from her, the circumstances appeared peculiar and probably didn't sit well with the colonel and his tidy army mind, he started making enquiries.

Colonel Mukherjee, 57, who has been working with Mumbai Metro One since 2010, asked colleagues to try and reach her, but her cell was unreachable. When he too tried her number, a few days later, he discovered the same.

Office peon Krishna Shivgar was sent to her address, which Colonel Mukherjee discovered, was different from the one on record along with her other employee details, to pick up her office laptop and data card and enquire about her.

"From there he (Shivgar) called me up. She was not at home. He told me that her friend was there at home and he was not aware of the whereabouts of Sheena." Her company laptop and data card were there though and were fetched back to office.

Odder still was when her "friend" showed up at the office later that day, with his mother in tow, offering a few even stranger details about this employee, that he never knew.

"That gentleman introduced himself as Rahul Mukerjea (former Star India CEO Peter Mukerjea's younger son). There was a lady with him, who he introduced as his mother (Shabnam Singh). I asked Rahul Mukerjea for what he had come. He said he was a friend of Sheena Bora and she lived with him."

"I asked Rahul Mukerjea as to where Sheena Bora was. He answered he was not aware of her whereabouts. He said she had gone to meet her mother on April 24 and thereafter she had not come back. He said he was worried about Sheena Bora and that her mother may have done something."

According to Colonel Mukherjee, Rahul after that outlined the whole background of who he was and his relationship with Sheena and how her mother (Indrani Mukerjea), who was not her sister, did not approve and he feared she had said something to Sheena that resulted in her not coming back to him.

He told the colonel that he planned to talk to his father Peter Mukerjea and, as requested by Colonel Mukherjee, he would keep him in the loop if he discovered any information on Sheena Bora's "whereabouts."

Colonel Mukherjee, probably surprised at the information he had just heard, looked up Sheena's employment record and found Indrani not listed as her mother.

Was her mother's name listed as Durga Rani Bora (Sheena's grandmother and legal adopted mother)? He said "I do not recollect, but it was certainly not Indrani Mukerjea," he added with firm emphasis.

Some days later he got a call from this Indrani Mukerjea.

A woman called on his cell, identifying herself as Indrani Mukerjea and told him that "She was the sister of Sheena Bora. I told her that Rahul Mukerjea told me she was the mother of Sheena Bora. She said that wasn't the case and she was the sister."

"I then asked her about the whereabouts of Sheena Bora. She told me that she has gone somewhere and doesn't want to be contacted, I told her that she was employee of the organisation and she just can't leave like that. To which she replied that Sheena Bora has told her that she will be sending her resignation letter at the earliest."

A resignation letter arrived on May 2, 2012.

It was filed, with its envelope, and finally after three months, Colonel Mukherjee said, using an HR term which is now in vogue to benignly imply termination, Sheena was "separated as an employee from the office system."

Little did he know that the separation was far graver than that.

Sheena had been separated as a human being from life too.

Colonel Mukherjee narrated the tale of Sheena's disappearance from Mumbai Metro One in court on a faintingly hot Wednesday, October 3 as Prosecution Witness 19 in the Sheena Bora murder trial before CBI Special Judge Jayendra Chandrasen Jagdale in Courtroom 51 of the Mumbai city civil and sessions court, south Mumbai.

It was increasingly difficult to concentrate on the colonel's taut account while it was being rudely dislodged by the narrative of Intense October Heat in a Baking Mumbai Courtroom, that suffocatingly had just half a window open, among ten narrow ones, some of them blocked by almirahs.

The courtroom also possessed a fleet of tired fans, a few of which rotated complainingly on an rpm slower than the wheels of a bullock cart or a damaged gramophone record.

Most in the room were close to swooning under the onslaught, with the stuffiness of 51 not helping a bit.

The colonel too paused in his recounting to take out a handkerchief and vigorously mop his glistening face.

At the back, Indrani, whose medical history and brain graph is getting more complicated day by day, looked faint and wan in the heat, her face droopy.

Peter, who had opted for the seat on the rickety, wooden, backless Accused Bench closest to the fan, seemed miserable too.

Only Sanjeev Khanna or Accused No 2 or A2 or Indrani's former husband as he is now mostly known, like he has no other identity, who possesses a resigned, reconciled placidity that helps him through his days, that must be tough given he doesn't probably get the VIP treatment of his fellow accused, looked cool as a cucumber, either philosophical or unaffected by the heat.

Colonel Shubhodoy Mukherjee, a short, mildly stout, silver-haired man, dressed in brown pants and a light brown checked shirt, rimless glasses, was a witness of an ilk this trial had not seen before.

His army starchiness strode into the courtroom with him and his black loafers, adding extra crispness and a military tenor to the proceedings.

He had a booming voice and a veeerrry correct and precise manner that was hard to ignore.

His answers were direct and forthright, peppered with "That's right" or "I am implying nothing."

Even while answering questions in the negative with "I don't remember" or "No", his replies were loud and bracing (you could almost hear a click of heels inside them) and were announced in a propah accent that ranking army officers habitually own, no doubt accentuated further by a year spent in Reading, the UK, earning a business management degree before he joined his present position.

At the end of his testimony he detailed his interactions in 2015-2016 with the Khar police station, north west Mumbai, and the CBI and how they also collected relevant documents from his office pertaining to Sheena Bora's stint there, including her appointment letter, joining letter, last salary slip, leave record, resignation letter and more via panchnama in presence of two witnesses from his company, Debashish Mohanty and Shweta Kishore.

He said she had left no additional belongings behind in her cubicle, which seemed a bit odd given that most employees do and provided some insight into who Sheena was -- a young woman who disappeared ultimately without a trace, with no more than few missing her for a couple of years together.

Colonel Mukherjee was asked to identify these documents in court on Wednesday which he did meticulously and with surgical precision.

Indrani's advocate Sudeep Ratnamberdutt Pasbola, sporting (a crowd of) four pens instead of his usual three, in his lawyer coat, in his cross examination afforded the colonel corresponding courtesy and respect prefacing each question, without exception, with "Colonel Mukherjee."

None of that barking/snapping or the rough side of Pasbola's formidable tongue that the lawyer reserves for his more recalcitrant witnesses, for Colonel Saab.

Colonel Mukherjee quickly got a grasp of what Pasbola needed answer-wise and was one of the few witnesses in this trial, so far, whose answers didn't wander off down the garden path and then into a dense jungle beyond, missing the point, consciously or unconsciously.

At only one instance did Pasbola have to politely chide ColonelMukherjee requesting him "Please don't add (extra) words."

The colonel answered "I don't remember" to quite a few questions, but he didn't appear to be sidestepping them and they were offered in a tone that seemed to indicate that he genuinely didn't have the answer.

While not ripping his testimony apart, Pasbola methodically zoomed in on establishing, bit by bit, that there was no proof for the incidents Colonel Mukherjee described other than the colonel's word to go on.

And did one rely on a colonel's word?

That doubt was sort of artfully tossed into the air by Pasbola and hung suspended, floating there, for all to contemplate and decide, as you scratched your head and wondered.

Now it is rather hard to take down a witness the stature of a colonel in a courtroom, where all witnesses stand on the same ground, but the seasoned lawyer did a capable, suave job of it and it was no surprise that the testimony of this witness was postponed from September 25 to October 3 so Pasbola could be present to conduct the cross examination.

First, the advocate established that one of the critical aspects of Colonel Mukherjee's testimony revolved around an error.

The telephone number given to the Khar police station from which the colonel said he got an sms from Sheena was different from the one given to the magistrate court.

And till he reached the magistrate's court he had not verified on his phone which number the message had come from.

He then walked Colonel Mukherjee through the two pieces of new evidence the colonel provided through his testimony that were not hearsay -- firstly, the meeting with Rahul and his mother (the former Mrs Mukerjea I) and secondly, the call from Indrani (the soon to be former Mrs Mukerjea II).

The rest, Pasbola underlined many times over to CBI Special Public Prosecutor Kavita Patil, who was conducting the testimony in a black chiffon sari, and to the judge, and had inserted in the court record, was hearsay evoking a bunch of playful banter about what was hearsay and "double hearsay" between the advocate and prosecutor.

What the peon told him, or Sheena's colleague told him was only unfounded information and nothing the colonel could have had direct knowledge of.

When it came to the two non-hearsay incidents, Pasbola carefully proved there was no physical record Colonel Mukherjee could possibly produce -- which was no doubt abnormal -- to show that the meeting between him and Rahul and Shabnam Singh (who was never identified by name in this hearing) had ever taken place.

The headquarters of Mumbai Metro One was secured both biometrically and by a visitors' register. The encounter, the colonel believed, had occurred in the visitors' room, where in and out records were not maintained.

He had not recorded any details of this meeting in any diary/calendar, but mentioned it to his project manager verbally, not on e-mail or any other way.

Colonel Mukherjee had no proof of the sms he received from Sheena Bora for a two-day extension of her leave or the conversation he had with Indrani either.

He had kept no notes or made any notations about the call or Indrani's number.

Nor was he ever asked by either the police or the CBI to identify Indrani's voice.

Apart from these two specific incidents that formed the backbone of the colonel's account, Pasbola attacked or brought into question a few other aspects of Colonel Mukherjee's testimony and threw in a few oddball questions.

Like he asked if the colonel had been to the Santa Cruz police station, north west Mumbai, ever in connection with this case to which Colonel Mukherjee belligerently offered a resounding and almost deafening no.

Or why anyone at Sheena's permanent address in Guwahati was not contacted.

Or if he suggested to Rahul to go to the police?

The one question never asked by anyone was about the contents of Sheena's laptop.

The lawyer pointed out the fact that, as per the statement given to the Khar police station by Colonel Mukherjee, he said he received Sheena's resignation letter on May 3 and not May 2 and it also said he had brought the relevant documents to the police station and they were not taken from him at the Mumbai Metro One office.

Pasbola gently: "Please see. It is recorded in your statement. Why is it so?"

Colonel Mukherjee, shaking his head back and forth: "I don't know!"

Pasbola also highlighted the fact that again they had only Colonel Mukherjee's word for it that Sheena had left the office that day at 3.30 pm, because her biometric record ceased once she was struck off the company rolls.

Pasbola: "So you accept that other than your word there would be no record of her absence or presence?"

Colonel Mukherjee in a clipped tone: "As on date, no."

While ending the cross examination, Pasbola suggested the two incidents the colonel had described in detail were false and had been done at the "insistence"of the police and the CBI.

At first Colonel Mukherjee was caught off guard by this closing procedure of a cross examination and laughed bemusedly.

When it was explained that the lawyer was doubting those parts of his testimony and declaring them false and that he should not agree, he boomed like a Bofors cannon, "Absolutely."

He, the soul of courtesy, then solemnly thanked the judge and to Pasbola, in a first for a witness, offered, "Thank you very much sir." And exited the stand.

Much of the thunder of Colonel Mukherjee's testimony Wednesday was stolen by Indrani's dramatic opening act to the day's hearing.

Looking frail but steely, Indrani took the stand to declare, to the astonishment of the court and the judge, how she wanted to argue her own bail application, for which she had fresh medical basis to ask for.

There is always a certain hard-to-describe fey quality to how Indrani comes across at close quarters.

Wednesday was no exception.

Feyness because she appears in real life like an almost absurd fictional character in a long, never-ending, one-act play about herself.

You resist the urge to extend a finger and touch her to see if this character is actually real. And if she indeed exists.

Nothing about her resembles what your imagination dictates an alleged murderess should look like. She has no ugly facial hair, or shadowy moustache, or beady, shifty eyes or manly hands, but looks like a porcelain Japanese doll.

Wearing a grey embroidered kurta, matched with a purple and green bandhini chunni, purple churidar, a purple bindi and red sindhoor, Accused No 1 announced that there had been a change in the circumstances of her health condition.

She produced a thick 19-page document, that was covered, page after page, closely-written in her neat, rounded very feminine handwriting, detailing her condition, its symptoms and the consequences it could have on her health and well-being.

It was signed, in a girlish hand 'Your's (sic) faithfully Indrani Pratim Mukerjea' and initialled 'I. Bora'.

In it she announced 'I respectfully submit that I have experienced, proficient and learned advocates who are representing me in this trial. However, I respectfully say that I wish to personally present my arguments of this bail application (enclosed) to be able to express my plight in this Hon’ble Court'...

Judge Jagdale, appearing slightly mystified, asked her to submit the application through her lawyers and set October 31 for the next date to discuss this matter.

Indrani has made two more hospital visits, since appearing in this court, and the high publicised appearance at the Bandra family court last month, after complaints of vision disturbance, dizziness, faintness.

As she was departing the court, post Colonel Mukherjee's testimony and cross examination, she encountered the prosecution team of CBI Investigating Officer Kishore Kaushal Singh, Patil, SP Vinay Kumar from the Delhi office of the CBI and CBI Special Public Prosecutor Bharat B Badami at the head of the stairs.

She stopped to have a word with them about her declining health.

After which Badami astutely murmured to her, "Wealth is there still."

Wealth, according to what was disclosed at the divorce proceedings September 18, was documented to be quite sufficient.

It included rugs, carpets, chairs (also one 'Gauri Khan chair'), sofas, a door (with daughter Vidhie Mukerjea's name on it), a four-poster bed, lamps, bed linen, drapes, curtains, cutlery, crockery, prints of Picasso and M F Husain, dining table set, towels, two paintings, jewellery, watches, sunglasses, bags, makeup, clothes, all worth approximately Rs 1 crore, apart from a division of their homes in Britain (Bristol perhaps), Spain (Marabella) and Mumbai and cash worth Rs 4.95 crores.

This crorepati, who is perpetually fasting (even on the day of her divorce filing, even as Peter went through three-four lunches), and looks wispy thin and wraith-like, then floated down the stairs to the prison van, most likely already turning over lines in her head on how she would argue for her own bail.

Vaihayasi Pande Daniel / Rediff.com