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Sheena Bora Trial: It's all about geography

By Vaihayasi Pande Daniel
April 06, 2018 09:22 IST
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Lawyer Amit Ghag got up to tell the judge that Shrikant Shivade -- Salman Khan and Peter Mukherjea's lawyer -- would take a morning flight from Jodhpur to Mumbai and would be in court by 3 pm on Friday to cross-examine Sub-Inspector Dalvi.
For a moment, Judge Jagdale looks startled.
"But isn't he caught up with that case in Jodhpur?" the judge asked.
Vaihayasi Pande Daniel reports from the Sheena Bora murder trial.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

There is one Mumbaikar who probably has a long and relaxing weekend coming up.

That would be Mumbai Police Sub-Inspector Ganesh Dalvi

Unless he is summoned for some sudden bandobast duty, which is often the peculiar fate of a Mumbai cop.

By 6 pm latest Friday, Dalvi's stint in the witness box at the Sheena Bora murder trial is likely to come to an end.

Dalvi's second last appearance, on the afternoon of April 5, in this high-profile homicide case started about 40 minutes late and lasted for not even an hour.

Thursday saw Niranjan Mundargi take over Dalvi's cross-examination in CBI Special Judge Jayendra Chandrasen Jagdale's oppressively hot Courtroom 51 at the sessions court, Kala Ghoda, south Mumbai.

He is the trial lawyer for the once Kolkata-based Sanjeev Khanna, Accused No 2 and Indrani Mukerjea's former husband.

Mundargi cuts a striking figure in court. Tall with boyish good looks and a sunny manner, there is a certain liveliness and cheer to this advocate's court technique.

His is a treble tone, higher-pitched, and thin. It is no baritone. But while talking to a witness he utilises his hands a lot and chirpily, enthusiastically almost acts out his questions.

He also attempts to engage with a witness on his level, more democratically. There is no talking down. While cross-examining Dalvi -- Prosecution Witness 1 (or PW1) -- he often addressed him in a friendly way as "Dada."


Dalvi's answers wobbled and waffled far less on Thursday.

Special Public Prosecutors Bharat Badami and Kavita Patil, who was wearing one of her tasteful black and white saris, had no objections and were mostly silent through the proceedings.

The lawyer made a point to ask Dalvi many of the questions he had asked Shyamvar Rai, the Mukerjeas's former driver, Accused No 3 and approver, in December.

The answers he got back from Dalvi were not that different from what Rai served up to him, but still more encouraging. They did seem to satisfy Mundargi's curiosity a little better, on certain issues.

Mundargi checked with Dalvi quite specifically about the layout of the area where Rai had lived pre-August 2015 before he was arrested -- Mosambi Tabela, Vakola, Santa Cruz East.

Mundargi, you realised on Thursday, and have realised earlier too, seems to put a lot of store in geography in a trial.

Mundargi: "Did you go to Shyamvar Rai's house on August 23, 2015?"

Dalvi: "Ho (Yes)."

Mundargi: "Is it located in a lane off Datta Mandir road?"

Dalvi starts off describing the location in Marathi. "It is a gully and a chawl off that road..."

Judge Jagdale: "Give a clearer answer."

Dalvi: "I cannot recall (exactly)."

Mundargi: "Is there a Patuck educational institute (the Parsi Patuck Educational Trust runs several schools there) at the start of Datta Mandir road near Shyamvar Rai's home?"

Dalvi: "No idea."

Mundargi: "Is there a dirty nullah at the corner of Datta Mandir road and the lane where Shyamvar Rai lives?"

Dalvi: "I have no idea."

Mundargi: "Two lanes away from Shyamvar Rai's home, towards Santa Cruz station begins the area of Vakola police station?"

Dalvi: "Yes."

Mundargi: "There is a staircase there leading up to Santa Cruz West Station. Near that staircase, isn't a police van (customarily) parked?"

Dalvi: "Mahit nahin (I don't know)."

The trial lawyer also bombarded, in quick succession, the policeman with a series of questions about Dalvi's trip to Pen, south of Mumbai on the Goa highway, with Shyamvar Rai.

Like: When they left for Pen? Which day? When they reached? How long it took in Pen to complete their work?

Dalvi said they left Mumbai on August 22, 2015 at 1.15 pm and reached Pen some four hours later.

Mundargi: "What time did you arrive in Pen?"

Dalvi: "1700 hours."

Mundargi: "Who did you meet at the police station there?"

Dalvi: "(Police Sub-Inspector) PSI Sarang."

Mundargi: "At what point of time did you make an application at the Pen police station?"

Dalvi: "Aathvath nahi (I cannot remember)."

Mundargi: "How long did the whole procedure take at that police station?"

Dalvi: "Two-and-a-half to three hours."

Mundargi: "Did the other police officers with you interrogate Shyamvar Rai further at Pen?"

Dalvi: "I cannot say."

Mundargi wondered if Dalvi and his colleagues attempted to verify the information on record at the Pen police station about the remains -- said to be of the unfortunate Sheena Bora -- found at Gagode Khurd, a village near Pen, Raigad district.

Dalvi said they had not.

Before departing Pen back for Mumbai another panchnama was drawn up.

Mundargi: "How long did the panchnama, dated August 22, 2015, take to draw up?"

Dalvi: "Five to ten minutes."

Incidentally, on the subject of Pen: On Wednesday Dalvi seemed to remember quite a different account by Rai of the journey to Pen with Sheena Bora's body.

When Sudeep Pasbola -- Indrani Mukherjea's lawyer -- queried him, Dalvi did not deny that the statement he first recorded from Rai said that "Dusra din Sheena Bora ka body bag mein daal kar Pen le gaya and burnt the body inside the bag."

But Rai told the court in 2017 that the body had not been taken in a bag to Pen and had been sat up on the seat (lipstick duly applied).

Back to Mundargi and Thursday's proceedings: The lawyer then moved his questioning to Dalvi's visits to Worli, south central Mumbai, to investigate the crime.

He first checked if Dalvi had ever been to Worli, in connection with this case and when.

Dalvi said he had been there on August 23, 2015 for 15 to 20 minutes.

An aside: Dalvi is very precise about specifying time, unlike his predecessor in the witness box, who had no concept of time.

If Dalvi offers a certain duration of time in reply to a lawyer and it is inaccurately noted, the policeman will correct the judge or the lawyer, even if the time is off by less than 5 minutes.

Mundargi wanted to know if Dalvi was familiar with the Marlow building, Worli, where the Mukerjeas stayed, and if he had been there.

Dalvi said he had not been there, but was aware of its connection with the case.

References to Marlow didn't seem to perk the interest of the folks in the accused enclosure that much more than usual, although they followed the proceedings quite closely on Thursday.

Accused 4 Peter Mukerjea, Indrani, clad in all white and sporting a large red bindi and red sindhoor, and Sanjeev stood for much of the hearing, listening attentively to the Dalvi-Mundargi mildly confrontational interactions.

Before the hearing, Sanjeev spent time with his photographer cousin, who was perhaps visiting the court after a long interval.

Peter also had a visitor who came to congratulate him about his handling of the Delhi CBI interrogation in the INX Media case ("You did well. Gave it back to them").

Two others, perhaps from his Marlow household or former office, brought him a fast food burger and a paper cup of tea/coffee.

Indrani's loyal advocate friend came to visit her. Indrani also spent time discussing legal matters with her lawyer Gunjan Mangla's young assistant Sia.

A highlight of Thursday's proceedings was a very confusing and long drawn out back and forth about Dalvi's investigations at Hiltop hotel, the three-star, 75-room Pochkanwala Road, Worli hotel, where Sanjeev stayed when he was in Mumbai that momentous April in 2012.

Like Pasbola, Mundargi wanted to know of Dalvi, "Do you have any documentation to show that Sanjeev Khanna was staying at the Hiltop hotel?"

Dalvi first said he did not and then he corrected himself to say he had for one of the days.

He said he had visited the hotel on August 24, 2015 to collect documentary evidence (earlier on Thursday he had said 23rd).

Mundargi: "Do you have the documentation today to show that Sanjeev Khanna had been staying there?"

Dalvi: "No."

Mundargi did not probe Dalvi's answer further for some reason.

Mundargi decisively progressed to his pet question: The time taken to travel from the five-storey, Rs 5,500-a-night Hiltop hotel in Worli to the Amarsons department store, Linking Road, Bandra, north west Mumbai, on a weekday.

This question has always been critical to Sanjeev's lawyers.

They say Sanjeev came to Bombay on April 24, 2012 not to murder Indrani's first born Sheena, in Bandra, but to visit his daughter Vidhie, Indrani's third born in Worli. Sanjeev has said this too,

His lawyers have repeatedly contended that Sanjeev -- who arrived in the late afternoon at his hotel on Tuesday, April 24, 2012, from the airport, after getting off a flight from Kolkata -- could not have made the distance to Bandra in the time plan outlined by the CBI, since he was still checking in and depositing his luggage at the Hiltop.

Hence, say his advocates, he was not at Linking Road that day and never met up with Indrani there.

The lawyer first delicately skirted around the question.

He collected background info -- asked how one would travel to Bandra, which route one would take. Enquired about the traffic exiting the Bandra Worli Sea Link at Bandra. Wondered about the traffic in front of Bandra's well-known biryani spot Lucky.

Judge Jagdale encouraged Mundargi to cut to the chase.

The judge suggested to Mundargi that instead of asking about the traffic and the time taken to reach Lucky, why not he ask about the time taken to reach the final destination Mundargi had in mind.

"Don't ask it in bits," Judge Jagdale said.

So Mundargi finally popped the question.

"Is there a lot of traffic between the Hiltop Hotel and Amarsons at Linking Road, Bandra (The spot where Rai said Sanjeev reached from Worli to meet Sheena and Indrani on the day of the murder)?"

Dalvi: "Yes."

When Rai, a driver with over a decade of experience, was asked the same question in December, he would not give a straight answer and preferred to hedge, never admitting to a time period and instead drew out his answers to make them non-answers.

Dalvi was, by contrast, forthright.

Mundargi: "Does it take 45 minutes to an hour to reach that spot during traffic time?"

Dalvi readily agreed: Yes, during traffic times. Except Ravivar (Sundays)."

Mundargi agreed: "Except Ravivar."

With the answer to his fave question in the bag, Mundargi was ready to wind up his cross examination of Dalvi.

He concluded with the charge to Dalvi: "You have filed a false FIR and a false case against my client on August 24, 2015. You have no proof of his involvement and did so, on the instructions of your seniors."

Dalvi's face registered no expression.

Mundargi went on to say that whatever Dalvi was saying in the witness box was also false.

Judge Jagdale said he could not take such a statement on record, perhaps because it violated the sanctity of the court.

Shrikant Shivade, Peter's lawyer, who is still away in Jodhpur caught up with representing actor Salman Khan -- who received a 5-year sentence on Thursday for killing two black bucks -- was represented by his assistants.

Lawyer Amit Ghag got up to tell the judge that Shivade would take a morning flight from Jodhpur to Mumbai and would be in court by 3 pm on Friday to cross-examine Dalvi.

Ghag said Shivade did not need much time with the cop, but that he had something specific he wanted to ask Dalvi and preferred to do it himself.

For a moment, Judge Jagdale looks startled.

"But isn't he caught up with that case in Jodhpur?" the judge asked.

Ghag said the verdict was already out and Shivade would be returning to the city.

The judge evidently had not heard the news of the Bollywood star's conviction while sitting in his chambers during lunch. But then the court building, which is under extensive repair, has poor cellular network.

Mundargi and Shreyansh Mithare -- Sanjeev's other lawyer -- approached the bench.

A mildly unshaven Sanjeev, wearing a green bush shirt and dark trousers, gingerly climbed into the witness stand.

He quietly requested permission to be allowed medical treatment. Sanjeev said he had skin rash issues that extended from his legs to his knees. He was also suffering retinal problems.

Sanjeev, who is Accused No 2, stated that the authorities at the Arthur Road jail had last allowed him to go to the J J Hospital, central Mumbai, close to the jail, six months ago for treatment and had not given permission since, nor was he being allowed his medication.

When Sanjeev rolled up his trousers, large dark discolourations were visible extending from his ankles and spreading across his shins to his knees.

Floaters were bothering him in his eyes.

Judge Jagdale, looking very grave and concerned, immediately asking if he was diabetic, which Sanjeev, said with a gentle smile, he was not.

The judge then enquired, "Which cell are you in?"

Sanjeev replied, "The Anda (an egg-shaped solitary confinement cell in a high security block of the jail)."

The judge looked taken aback. "But didn't I see you at..."

Sanjeev supplied, "Cell 12? That is Peter's cell. You have never seen me there." (Judges make rounds of jails from time to time.)

Judge Jagdale asked that Sanjeev's lawyers urgently give Sanjeev's request in writing to him.

Mundargi and Mithare had an application ready.

The judge asked instead for a letter that had better details of Sanjeev's ailments.

Judge Jagdale promised to action it immediately.

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Vaihayasi Pande Daniel /