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Rediff.com  » News » Sheena Bora Trial: The Willing Witness

Sheena Bora Trial: The Willing Witness

Last updated on: June 12, 2018 22:59 IST

Singh and Badami took Waghmare to a corner of the corridor outside, where others have no access, and gave him a lecture.
The conversation was largely inaudible, except for a phrase here or there.
The thrust was unmistakable.
Waghmare had to learn not to give such detailed answers to the defence.
Vaihayasi Pande Daniel reports from the Sheena Bora murder trial.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

Pradeep Waghmare presented himself on Monday, June 11, in court in the Sheena Bora murder trial as himself.

As the man named Pradeep Waghmare.

But being yourself isn't often always what is required of a witness in a courtroom.

A candid, honest, semi-lettered man was whom Waghmare came across to be on Monday, when his cross-examination commenced in CBI Special Judge Jayendra Chandrasen Jagdale’s Courtroom No 51 at the Mumbai city civil and sessions court, Kala Ghoda, south Mumbai.

Certainly his answers testified him to be that:

He did not vaguely reply, that he could not remember, to too many of the questions.

He had plausible answers for most of the queries put to him.

He did not cleverly dodge any questions.

He seemed to make no attempt to dress up the truth.

He did not suffer from memory loss.

He had no artful replies.

 

Clean, simple answers were exactly what the former office boy at INX Media Services Pvt Ltd and cleaner of Indrani and Peter Mukerjea's residence at Marlow, Worli, south central Mumbai, delivered up in court on Monday.

And he did an earnest job of it.

Was either the defence or the prosecution happy with that?

Not entirely.

Why?

 

One of the series of intriguing things you learn about courts, in the one-and-a-half years you have been attending, is that a partially literate person often has another way of answering or comprehending a question. That is because his understanding is altogether different, but neither inferior nor illogical.

But it doesn't always please the defence because they view it as sidestepping a question or prevarication.

For instance when Indrani's trial lawyer Sudeep Ratnamberdutt Pasbola asked Waghmare if he ever received calls in office from Indrani's son, the Guwahati-based Mekhail Bora, he didn't answer the advocate, initially.

Instead he countered Pasbola's question, to the lawyer's irritation, with another question and asked if Pasbola meant in office as in during office hours. Or did he mean while on the office premises. A fair question.

Another phenomenon you have discovered about courts is that the witnesses all must be forgetful smart cookies, offering up implausible answers.

Poor Waghmare just didn't make the cut.

Instead he volunteered, unknowingly, a variety of interesting little tidbits of information, that tossed up a few wrinkles in the prosecution's general narrative on the case.

Like he mentioned that his cellphone instrument, unfortunately for him, had been impounded by the Khar police station, north west Mumbai, because it had the number of a man in Kolkata whom Indrani had wanted him to contact, saved on it.

This emerged when Pasbola happened to ask if the number was still saved on his phone and if he could dial it.

There was, it was also discovered on Monday, no record of the police having taken the phone.

Waghmare added further that the phone was damaged. And Inspector Dinesh Kadam, of that police station, had taken his phone from him and taken it to his office. He didn't remember the CBI asking him about the phone.

Monday's cross examination did not begin at the appointed time of 11 am. It was postponed to 2.45 pm in the afternoon, since Pasbola could not make the morning hearing. At 2.45, Pasbola's colleagues said he was held up in another matter at the high court, but would be in by 3.20 pm.

The court patiently waited for him.

Closer to 4 pm, Pasbola -- whose engagement diary must be an absolute nightmare to juggle, like that of many lawyers -- arrived to open his cross examination.

He appeared, as always calm, cool and collected, never stressed, not a hair out of place.

In the interim, Waghmare, who was wearing a light blue shirt and grey trousers, wandered out of the court for a momentary break.

The judge, who rarely loses his sense of humour or his equanimity, commented in Marathi: "Well now the lawyer is here. But the witness has disappeared."

Waghmare was duly retrieved from wherever he had sauntered off to and the hearing began.

Pasbola started off Waghmare's cross examination by asking how many times the Khar police station had interrogated him.

The office boy said he had been questioned across three different days in August 2015 by Inspector Kadam. But he had not been taken anywhere by the police to identify anything.

He said the CBI had spoken to him just once and recorded his statement on a computer.

Neither the CBI nor the police had enquired of Waghmare what his mobile number had been in 2012.

The lawyer wanted to know the details of Waghmare's numbers.

Waghmare had two numbers because he used a double SIM and he remembered both those numbers, and recited them from memory, unlike other witnesses in the past who could not remember their own phone numbers.

He said one of the numbers got discontinued because it was a pre-paid and he didn't pay the bill.

For Rs 4,500 Waghmare kept the INX office in Thane, outside Mumbai, clean and ran the office errands.

For an additional Rs 3,000 he went, twice or thrice a week, to the Mukerjea's flat in Worli and cleaned up there as well as in their garage.

He had keys to both the flat and the garage. As did, he said, the Mukerjeas' former driver and Accused No 3 Shyamvar Pinturam Rai.

But both of them were never in the flat together, except once.

Waghmare received his monthly emoluments "Sometimes by cheque and sometimes by cash."

He had no fixed hours, he confirmed, at the office, but if there was work he could not go home. He also had no set days of the week for his trips to Marlow.

Pasbola, mystified: "So whenever the mood suited you, you went to Marlow?"

Waghmare: "Yes."

There was a security register at Marlow, for visitors to sign into. But Waghmare never had to or did. He agreed that there was no way of proving his trips to Marlow and it was all about the strength of his word.

The Q and A took place in Marathi with Waghmare simply offering a "Ho (Yes)" or a "Nai (No)" to mostly each question.

He seemed to have a good head for dates. His wife sat in the front row of the court watching the proceedings impassively, offering only a flicker of a smile when Waghmare and Pasbola clashed over the office hours vs office question.

In Thane he shared the office with Indrani's secretary Kajal Sharma and Shyamvar Rai. The office got no visitors, he said.

Rai was already working at INX when Waghmare joined. He and Rai slowly became friends, speaking, he agreed, on the phone "two or three times a day." And they met face to face at the Thane office. Rai even visited Waghmare's home once when his wife was ill with typhoid.

They remained in touch right till August 2015, although the frequency was less after Rai left INX and Indrani's employ in late 2012. And though Waghmare asked him many times, he never got to know what job Rai started, post INX.

Pasbola: "After he left INX where was Rai working?"

Waghmare cheerfully but totally guilelessly: "As a driver."

Pasbola impatiently: "But where?""

Waghmare: "I tried asking him where he was working many times, but he did not give an answer."

In August 2015 Waghmare vouched for the fact that he and Rai spoke multiple times before Rai was arrested, from August 11 onwards.

Pasbola: "You and Rai spoke many times daily, calling each other, sometimes he called you and sometimes you called him?"

Waghmare: "Ho (Yes).

Pasbola: "Daily."

Waghmare fumbled a bit at this point and Pasbola got gruff.

Pasbola bullying: "Barabar? (Correct?)"

Waghmare: "Ho (Yes)."

That was a curious point. And another oddity that Waghmare inadvertently uncovered.

According to the defence, Rai was not arrested on August 21, 2015. The defence have charged that since he was allegedly collaborating with the police, Rai had been held in the Khar police's custody from some days before that.

If that was true, Rai and Waghmare had spoken numerous times when Rai was in custody.

And why had Waghmare and Rai been speaking so often so close to his arrest?

Undoubtedly, Pasbola will return to this point in the days to come.

When it came to Waghmare's acquaintance with the younger Boras, he said he knew of Mekhail Bora and Sheena Bora from 2006.

Pasbola: "When did Mekhail Bora start calling you?"

Waghmare: "2007."

Pasbola did not ask why Mekhail would call him. Another point that will surely be raised later.

Pasbola: "Did he call Shyamvar Rai in the same manner that he called you?"

Waghmare said he had no idea and that he did not mention Mekhail's calls to Rai or Sharma.

And Rai never volunteered any information on Mekhail's calls to him.

Pasbola: "From when did you know that Mekhail and Sheena were Indrani's son and daughter?"

Waghmare, surprisingly answered: "From 2013-2014," because he said Mekhail told him.

Pasbola: "Did you ever call Mekhail?"

Waghmare categorically: "No."

Pasbola: "When did you meet Mekhail?"

Waghmare: "In 2006. Only once."

Pasbola: "When did you meet Sheena Bora?"

Waghmare: "I have never met her."

Then, looking bewildered, he backtracked and Pasbola gave a big grin.

Waghmare: "Once in 2006 and once in 2011."

Pasbola moved his cross examination to Waghmare's trip to Sealdah outside Kolkata in 2014 to collect some medicines for Indrani from a man named Sujit there.

Judge Jagdale puzzled: "Sealdah?"

Pasbola explained: "In Kolkata. A station like Howrah. Like VT and Churchgate are in Mumbai."

The lawyer asked Waghmare if he ever met the mysterious Sujit and if he knew Sujit's address and if he had searched for him in Kolkata.

Waghmare said he had not.

Pasbola pointed out that he earlier said, in his testimony, that he was not able to "locate him there", which suggested he went looking for Sujit.

A noisy skirmish erupted, with CBI Special Prosecutor Kavita Patil taking objection.

Patil successfully pushed home her point that when Waghmare said he was unable to locate Sujit there (Kolkata) it did not imply that Waghmare had actually gone searching for Sujit.

Waghmare said he stayed overnight in Sealdah at a lodge. He didn't remember how much he paid for his boarding and he had received no receipt for his stay there, he averred.

Neither has the police nor the CBI asked about a receipt of his stay there or where this lodge was in their interrogation of him.

The cross examination proceeded to the most significant and ticklish issue of the day -- the apparent random confiscation of Waghmare's cellphone.

Why was the phone seized?

Why was there no record of its confiscation?

One wondered how, at will, the police could so easily take a phone away from a man who must have saved up for many months to buy it.

Pasbola: "The panchnama (the police's investigative report that is verified by witnesses) does not mention that the police seized your mobile?"

Waghmare: "I gave the mobile to the police when I gave them the (Kolkata) ticket and boarding pass."

Pasbola: "Did you tell Singh Sahib (CBI Investigating Officer Kaushal Kishor Singh) that you had a mobile, on which Sujit's number was saved, that was taken by the police?"

Waghamare shrugged indicating it seems he had not.

Pasbola: "Did the police try to call Sujit from your mobile?"

Waghmare: "I have no idea. The police took my mobile and went to the cabin with it."

Pasbola sarcastically: "The great manush Kadam? (That great man Kadam?)"

Waghmare: "Ho (Yes)."

Waghmare, perhaps realising a little too late, the enormity of what he had disclosed, then went off on a tangent, offering that his phone was a "juna (old) mobile" (which was a Samsung; he didn't know the model) and it was damaged and he told the police that if they were able to turn it on and access the number, they were welcome to try.

At this crucial interplay in the hearing it suddenly started to rain.

Given the steamy temperatures that had been plaguing the room since morning, all sets of eyes in court, that were looking steadfastly at Waghmare, including the judge's, moved in swift unison to the window, to check if, hopefully, it was raining.

It was a tiny cloudburst that lasted all of two sad minutes. The heat remained.

Disappointed, all eyes travelled back to Waghmare.

Pasbola, showing Waghmare his panchnama, again probed why the seizure of the phone was not recorded there.

Waghmare unsure and somewhat bewildered: "Aathvath nahi (I can't remember)."

In the back, Indrani, sitting between Peter and former husband Sanjeev Khanna in the accused box, wearing a full-sleeved white kurta and salwar matched with a green chunni and bindi, trilled, with an incredulous giggle: "Aathvath nahi??

The hearing ended there, to be resumed on Tuesday afternoon.

Waghmare and his wife, who was wearing a light blue kurta and a white churidar, were set to leave. They were asked to wait.

There was some general confusion as lawyers and the police were all trying to exit the room together.

The police were keen to take the accused back to jail as quickly as possible. The accused were not keen to go.

The police got their way, to the lawyers' ire, even after appealing to CBI Special Prosecutor Bharat Badami.

Peter, as he was being borne quickly away, was instructed to write a letter of complaint to the judge saying he had not been allowed to see his advocates by the prosecution.

Singh and Badami subsequently took Waghmare to a corner of the corridor outside, where others have no access, and gave him a lecture.

The conversation was largely inaudible, except for a phrase here or there.

The thrust was unmistakable.

Waghmare had to learn not to give such detailed answers to the defence.

Instead, he needed to answer questions put to him with those more common and handy phrases from the witnesses' lexicon: "I don't remember" or "I don't know."

The meek-looking simpleton of Waghmare looked a bit troubled.

A sad, uncomfortable expression was writ large across his trusting face, as he attempted to comprehend these fresh instructions.

In all probability the Pradeep Waghmare who takes the witness stand on Tuesday will not to be anything like the Pradeep Waghmare of Monday. He will not be himself.

Along with Waghmare, Tuesday, Amnesia may once again skip gleefully into the courtroom and have a field day.

Vaihayasi Pande Daniel / Rediff.com