An Indian Air Force officer was on Wednesday killed during the Republic Day rehearsal parade in Kolkata after a speeding car belonging to the son of former Rashtriya Janata Dal MLA Mohammed Sohrab tore through the barricades at the spot and hit him.
The brand new white Audi broke three guard rails and barged into the parade rehearsal on the Red Road at about 6.30 am and killed 21-year-old Corporal Abhimanyu Gaud, the Air Force drill instructor who was supervising the parade.
The road is normally closed for traffic during the rehearsal in the morning hours but the car sped towards the officer, knocked him off his feet and continued to move at high speed till it hit a barricade and came to a halt, a defence official said.
The Air Force personnel sustained injuries and was rushed to Eastern Command Hospital where the doctors declared him dead.The driver left the car and fled.
Describing the death of the officer as "unfortunate", West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee ordered "strict and strong action" against the person responsible for the mishap.
After meeting the family members of the Air Force officers at the hospital, Banerjee said, "All strong action must be taken. Even after seeing that a parade rehearsal is going on and the total area has been barricaded how come somebody breaks in... It raises the question whether the person driving the car was okay or not.. This is very unfortunate and a serious matter. We have lost a life.
"Investigation will take place for sure and I have told the Police Commissioner to take strong action and lodge a murder case against the person. I do not know who drives vehicles in this manner... Those who drive cars like this do not have any right to get a driving licence," she said before leaving the hospital.
Though nobody has been arrested so far in connection with the accident, after examining the challan, sleuths of the Kolkata Police got the address of the showroom from where the car was bought and finally the details of the owner.
"As per showroom records, the car has been registered against a company which belongs to former RJD MLA Mohammed Sohrab. And the showroom records show the car purchased for Rs 90 lakh belonged to Sohrab's son Ambia Sohrab," an officer said.
Going by the showroom records, it was found that the Audi was delivered to the Sohrabs on January 4 and the contact details of the customer provided were of Ambia Sohrab, the officer said.
A team of Kolkata Police sleuths tried to contact Sohrab as well as his father on his mobile number which was, however, found to be switched off, the officer said.
"Our team went to the Sohrabs house but it was found locked and the Sohrabs were missing," he said.
Sources in the Kolkata Police Anti-Rowdy section told PTI that they were also working on the tower location of Ambia Sohrab to "find out" whether he was driving the Audi or not.
"It's still unclear who was driving the car. We are taking help of the CCTV footages to identify the person," the source said.
The driver of the car left behind the vehicle after scrapping the papers bearing the temporary registration number, both from the front and the rear end, in order to hide the identity of the vehicle owner, a senior police officer said.
An FIR has been lodged by Defence officials in connection with the incident at the Maidan Police Station, he said.
Besides the Anti-Rowdy section, the Detective Department and the Homicide department were also probing into the mishap.
Initial investigations revealed that before leaving the car near the South Gate of Fort William on Kidderpore Road, the driver sprayed strong perfume inside and outside the car, which was possibly meant to cover up the "smell of liquor", the officer said.
"But he left the challan of the car inside which helped us locating the showroom from where it was bought," he said.
Besides top Kolkata Police officers, Kolkata Police Commissioner Surajit Kar Purkayastha rushed to the spot.
The Air Force personnel was a resident of Surat in Gujarat and posted in Kalaikunda Air Force Base in West Bengal, a defence official said.
The Kolkata police Commissioner said, "It is an unprecedented thing ... breaking the grid rails. We have gone through the CCTV footages of the place and found that there was only one person inside the car. We are looking into every aspect of the incident."
"We have alerted all the police stations surrounding the area and have started search operations for the driver. Checking at all the entry and exit points have been beefed up so that he cannot run away," a police officer said.
Kolkata Traffic Police personnel said that the Audi was initially stopped while it was trying to get onto the flyover leading to Vidyasagar Setu.
"The driver took a U-turn on the flyover itself and drove down taking the wrong lane. It was on high speed, broke one signal and then broke the guard rail in front of the South Gate of Fort William and rushed towards Red Road where vehicular entry was prohibited for a few hours in the morning because of the rehearsal," the police officer said.