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Rediff.com  » News » Sheena Bora Trial: Time, that has us handcuffed, is of no consequence in courtrooms

Sheena Bora Trial: Time, that has us handcuffed, is of no consequence in courtrooms

Last updated on: June 26, 2018 20:37 IST

How much more gray or bald would Inspector Alaknure have become when we see him next?
Will Peter still be wearing white shirts and khaki trousers and eating large lunches?
Will Judge Jagdale be still in charge of the case?
Who will be the prime minister when Alaknure appears in court next?
Vaihayasi Pande Daniel reports from the Sheena Bora murder trial.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

Monday June 25 was the wettest day of 2018 -- so far -- for Mumbai.

231 mm in 24 hours.

Grey sheets of cooling rain sliced down outside the Mumbai city civil and sessions court, Kala Ghoda, south Mumbai.

Water slopped over the court's aged eaves and came dribbling into the humid corridors.

Yet inside CBI Special Judge Jayendra Chandrasen Jagdale's Courtroom No 51, to the contrary, it was one of the most arid days of the Sheena Bora murder trial, when PW5 or Prosecution Witness No 5 Senior Police Inspector Nitin Alaknure took the stand to give his testimony.

That is no surprise.

Policemen make somewhat uninteresting occupants of a witness box.

Not because they are dull people.

But because they know the drill too well.

There are no colourful detours or eyebrow-raising diversions from proper procedure -- or loving spouses sitting in the front row of saggy court chairs -- when they methodically give evidence in a trial.

It is all insipidly precise.

 

Doubly so Monday, since Alaknure took the box instead of Deven Bharti, joint police commissioner, law and order, who had been expected to appear, and who, because of his senior rank and role in the investigation would have ushered fresh suspense and crackle into the courtroom.

Bharti was a no show. His absence drained the anticipated spark from the proceedings.

Alaknure, who had the burden of making up for the missing drama, could not.

His dry style was more particular and plodding than most police officers, as he recalled, for instance, one by one, the particulars of the all CDs, that were initially blank that he 'burnt' and labelled -- 15 to 20 dragging minutes went by there alone -- while collecting evidence in 2015 at the Khar police station, north west Mumbai, from Rahul Mukerjea, Sheena's boyfriend and former Star India CEO Peter Mukerjea's son from an earlier marriage.

The CDs kept multiplying and it was with great difficulty one could remember, post a drowsiness-inducing lunch of two parathas, which CD was for which and which CD wandered off where.

Judge Jagdale confused and mildly bleary: "Five CDs (in all)?"

Alaknure corrected in Marathi: "Saha (Six)."

He then explained all over again the identities and journeys of each CD.

For some strange reason we were sadly deprived of knowing the brand of the CDs too, given the exhausting detailing -- Were they the exciting, shiny Sony ones or the captivating Writex discs? That chota fact may have uplifted this report a mite :)).

During the narration of The Voyages of the CDs there was ample time to look around the room, to absorb new details and take fresh stock of Courtroom No 51.

Accused No 2, businessman and Indrani Mukerjea's former husband, Sanjeev Khanna, wearing a blue shirt and black jeans, sitting in the accused enclosure in the rear, was no longer hidden behind the earlier skyscraper of metal trunks.

They had been redistributed, via some new permutation-combination formula, so we could get, again, a proper glimpse of his always slightly bemused, gentle face. He usually sits flanking his erstwhile wife.

Peter sat across flanking his soon-to-be-erstwhile media executive wife on the other side, dressed like always in white and khaki.

Indrani, looking like she had just delicately stepped out of a Surf Excel television ad into the courtroom, was dressed from head to toe in bright, spotless white, in spite of the mud, puddles, slush and the travails of living three years in jail (where there could be no good detergents).

The army of trunks, that keep Judge Jagdale company on his judge dais, along with the court stenographer and a pedestal fan, had undergone some minor adjustment and a shiny new one could be spotted at his right.

The most cheerful item in the courtroom on Monday was a perky bright pink and orange umbrella, decorated with lacy lines of pink, orange and black dots, belonging to one of the clerks.

The umbrella was all the more noticeable because it was so out of place.

Sessions courtrooms are very short on physical colour. In most rooms it looks like Colour just took to its feet and escaped.

Skated away, with a sigh of relief, leaving the landscape nearly uniformly monochromatic, like when you suck the bright hues out of a picture in Instagram with a homochromous filter like Sienna or Willow.

Solemn long, numbered, grey or dark green cupboards, who resemble soldiers guarding the room.

Dingy steel melancholy trunks, apart from the few new ones.

Dark brown gloomy furniture and railings.

Black lawyer jackets.

Dull-cloured khaki police uniforms.

Grey stacks of papers.

It is an endless catalogue of a dreary lack of colour.

At the beginning of the hearing, Indrani's petite, black-coated, lawyer Gunjan Mangla got up to ask the judge that if, as newspapers (The Times of India) had reported, Deven Bharti had filed additional statements at the Khar police station, post 2015, they had not been given a copy of it by the prosecution.

She complained plaintively too that the prosecution had been vague about who the next witness was: "Who is coming today? I don't know."

There were meant to be two witnesses and only one had shown up on Monday.

At first Judge Jagdale didn't understand her statement querying blankly who "Deven" was?

It was explained to him that Deven Bharti was a joint commissioner of police and that he was not in court on Monday because he was preparing for Prime Minister Narendra D Modi's visit to Mumbai on Tuesday and would be in court in the next few days.

The judge chided CBI Special Prosecutor Bharat Badami for not giving witness names. "You should have given the information," but he dismissed Mangla's plea saying they could not rely on what was written in the newspapers in a court.

"You are an officer of the court, you should know that."

Mangla still insisted that she believed there were supplementary statements filed by Bharti that the defence was aware of. Badami denied it.

Lawyer Amit Ghag, habitually neatly-dressed and affable, who represents Peter, got up to make a request to the court.

Just like in the case of the testimony of Khar police Sub-Inspector Ganesh Dalvi, PW1, in 2017, where the police officer (Dalvi) giving evidence had also taken statements from witnesses, Ghag asked to defer the defence's cross examination of PW5 Alaknure, till they had first heard the evidence of the witnesses whose statements this senior police inspector had recorded in 2015.

Those witnesses were Rahul Mukerjea, Indrani's secretary Kajal Sharma and three other individuals, who were not properly identified but referred to simply as Kishore, Julian and Ghumadia.

Ghag said they would put in an application asking this.

So the only evidence admissible at this point would be any facts Alaknure could provide on his work on the case and about his initial interactions with these witnesses.

He could not yet speak about what they said in their statements to him till they (the five witnesses) had appeared in court too.

The judge agreed.

Badami, on that score, added later: "They are making an application. It is almost certain it will be granted."

Judge Jagdale laughed. "Almost?!"

Badami guided Alaknure through his 'chief' (examination in chief) as the testimony is casually termed, even though his colleague CBI Special Prosecutor Kavita Patil, who usually does it, was in court, as was CBI Investigating Officer Kaushal Kishor Singh.

Being a police officer, Alaknure did not need much direction or prodding and took over the narrative, efficiently and crisply, himself.

Alaknure, whose police award-winning wife Namrata also served/serves in the state intelligence department, is a tall, straight-backed man, greying and balding. He speaks in a loud, definite voice and has a starchy, look-you-in-the-eye kind of manner.

Wearing a blue beret and Mumbai Police khaki, his epaulets boasted three stars. His reading glasses were hooked into the neckline of his uniform.

He spoke, clearly, in good, clean Marathi and was very much in control of his facts; he had marshalled them all in order -- he probably had them obediently organised, at attention and saluting, in straight lines in his head -- and was trotting each one out with speed.

On Monday (at least) he came across as an officer who had a sharp memory, remembering for example exactly how many CDs he and his colleague dealt with three years ago, under what names they stored folders on their police station computer and who called him and when etc.

Alaknure began his career in the Mumbai police force in December 2003 in the crime branch. He then became part of a special technical cell there called, intriguingly, the X Project. This division's job was to aid the force on all issues relating to mobile phones.

In 2012 he joined the crime branch's anti-extortion cell where he said he "countered extortion threats and ransom calls" that were made by the underworld often to businessmen.

His testimony started off with how he had received summons from Bharti's office.

"In the last week of April 2012 Additional CP Deven Bharti called me to his office and told me to note down a mobile number. He said the mobile number belonged to a relative of Peter Mukerjea and Indrani Mukerjea and to find out the present location of the mobile number.'

Alaknure contacted his former colleagues at the X Project and asked them to track the coordinates of the number.

The X (Project) Men got back to him with the information that the cell was switched off. They could not, therefore, identify its location.

He called Bharti and conveyed these facts. And he said Bharti said okay.

After two or three days Bharti called back to say the relative had been traced.

That was that.

In August 2015 -- its "last week" he specified -- Alaknure joined the Khar police station as a police inspector. He said the investigation into Sheena Bora's murder was already underway.

In August that year, according to news reports, several police officers were transferred on the orders of then Mumbai police commissioner Rakesh Maria to the Khar police station to work on the Sheena Bora murder case.

"At that time the investigating officer on the case was Dinesh Kadam. I was assisting PI Dinesh Kadam in the investigation," Alaknure explained.

During the course of the investigation Bharti visited the Khar police station in his supervisory role and he reminded Alaknure that the cell number he had asked the policeman to track in 2012 was in relation to this Sheena Bora murder case.

Probably it was Sheena's, but that has not yet been stated.

The senior police inspector remembered that in 2015 Rahul Mukerjea had come to the station and "He told me he had two of Sheena Bora's passports."

Alaknure said Rahul informed him that he had phone recordings and messages exchanged between him and stepmother Indrani Mukerjea and father Peter Mukerjea and he wanted to submit the information as evidence.

Oddly, this information or the passports had not been looked for or requested earlier and only came into the picture when Rahul volunteered to provide it.

Alaknure did not explain why that was so.

At this point in the proceedings, an alert Indrani, her face animated, stood up in the accused box to listen very carefully to what Alaknure was saying and conferred several times with Peter on it.

Alaknure thereafter spent that intense half an hour describing meticulously to the court how the evidence was submitted, including the technical process, for which he got assistance from a Sub-Inspector Chavan of Khar police "who had computer knowledge."

Rahul had brought in his Nokia cell, that had, Alaknure specified, a battery, a memory card and no SIM, and showed the police the recorded conversations between himself and Indrani and between himself and Peter on it. He had messages too.

The information was recorded on CDs and copies were given to Rahul and to Kalina's Forensic Science Laboratory, north west Mumbai, for analysis.

Rahul presented two Indian passports of Sheena's -- one was old and one was still valid then.

As per earlier statements of witnesses in this trial: Remember that Sheena was supposed to have disappeared to America. But Rahul, according to Alaknure, had her still valid passport in 2015. Did the passport have US visas? Alaknure did not say.

The submissions and transfer of information were done as per police procedure, Alaknure clarified in great detail, and the panch witnesses (as required for a panchnama or recording of evidence with witnesses) were summoned to be present.

"At that time Rahul Mukerjea while listening to the recording identified his own voice, Indrani Mukerjea's voice, Peter Mukerjea's voice and (the mysterious unnamed) Kishore's voice."

Rahul was given a certification that he had submitted the information and apparently took away his phone with him when he departed the police station.

Even though the cell had recordings of conversations about Sheena, he was not ordered to give in the phone, it seemed, into police custody, while the phones of others like the Mukerjea house help and peon Pradeep Waghmare had been seized, in the same case.

The documentation drawn up that day, at the Khar police station, three years ago, was produced and Alaknure, putting on his spectacles, scrutinised the papers and confirmed their identity.

By 4 pm Alaknure was done.

He donned his beret, smartly saluted Judge Jagdale and climbed down from the witness box.

The senior inspector will now reappear in the stand after the five witnesses that he took evidence from, offer their evidence.

How many months or monsoons or years later will that be?

How much more gray or bald would Alaknure have become when we see him next?

How much older will the accused be?

Will Peter still be wearing white shirts and khaki trousers and eating large lunches?

How many more trunks will courtroom No 51 have by then?

Will Judge Jagdale be still in charge of the case?

Will the court renovation be over by then?

Will there be better fans or more dustbins?

Who will be the prime minister when Alaknure appears next?

Time, that has us handcuffed, is of no consequence in courtrooms.

It has no influence. Or power here.

It might advance ahead determinedly and mightily elsewhere, but you wouldn't know that, ever, in court corridors.

It casts no long shadows in these parts.

The sixth occupant of the witness box will be Deven Bharti, when he is freed from his duties of securing the prime minister's visit in the coming day or two. But on Monday no date was set for that hearing.

Vaihayasi Pande Daniel / Rediff.com