Dead suspects, missing witness

Published : Feb 27, 2004 00:00 IST

THE investigation into the murder of Satyendra Kumar Dubey, an engineer with a degree from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur and working on the Golden Quadrilateral Project in Bihar, took a bizarre turn when two suspects, Mukendra Paswan and Shivnath Sao, were found dead in their village on February 1. They had apparently committed suicide by consuming pesticide. The previous day, they had been questioned by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for several hours. Earlier, Pradeep Kumar, a rickshaw-puller and a prime witness, became untraceable after the CBI recorded his statement on December 28. A CBI spokesman is reported to have said: "His statement was recorded and after that he was discharged, and he was on his own."

Both Paswan and Sao were known to be small-time criminals; one of them with a jail record for a minor offence. According to Gaya District Magistrate Brajesh Malhotra, they returned to their village, Katari, and ended their lives. CBI Director U.S. Mishra, who arrived in Patna on February 4 to take stock of the investigation, is reported to have said that the death of Paswan and Sao was a major setback to the investigation of what he called a "high priority case" and would slow it down.

Relatives of the duo accused the CBI of torturing them during the interrogation. The CBI, which took in the two men after a tip-off from the Gaya police, has denied the allegations. But in view of the tense situation, a large police contingent was deployed in Katari. "We never imagined that people whom we questioned would end their lives in this manner. This has never happened before," Mishra is reported to have said.

But questions are being asked about the seriousness of the investigation into the Dubey murder. Even the Patna High Court expressed its concern over the manner in which the case was progressing. The CBI, however, maintained that its best officers were in charge of the investigation. Mishra himself led a team to Gaya to discuss the situation with the district administration.

Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) supremo and former Chief Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav demanded a high-level inquiry; he said he suspected a dark plot behind the death of the two suspects. He told mediapersons that the two seemed to have been silenced by the same people who were behind Dubey's killing.

On February 2, Shivnath Sao's father Bajinath Sao filed a first information report (FIR) with the Bihar police, charging the CBI with poisoning his son and Paswan while interrogating them. The post-mortem report, however, states that their cause of death was consumption of sulphos, a pesticide, and that there were no indications of external or internal injuries.

The disappearing act of Pradeep Kumar only adds to the mystery. He was brought on December 25 to the CBI office in New Delhi from Patna for questioning; his statement was recorded on December 28, following which he was informally detained by the agency for a number of days. Although the CBI claims that he was `discharged', Kumar was scheduled to take a lie-detector test arranged by the agency. Sometime around the second week of January, Kumar was summoned again for questioning by a team headed by a Deputy Inspector-General that was leaving for Gaya. It was then that it came to light that he had taken a train to Bihar the previous night, having borrowed Rs.1,000 from a junior CBI official.

Dubey, 30, who was working as project director with the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI), was gunned down in Gaya on November 27, 2003, nearly a year after he had written to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) about the corruption in the construction of the Golden Quadrilateral project. Dubey's identity, despite his request for confidentiality, was compromised, and that cost him his life.

Sometime last year, Dubey wrote to the NHAI Chairman informing him that he feared danger to his life as his identity had been revealed. "Sir, you would appreciate that this disclosure has exposed me to undesirable pressures and threats," he wrote. Dubey was reportedly reprimanded by the Central Vigilance Officer of the NHAI for his letter to the PMO.

RJD leader and Bihar Law Minister Shakeel Ahmed Khan demanded immediate enactment of the Public Interest Disclosure (Protection of Informers) Bill, which seeks to protect and give right of secrecy to whistleblowers on corruption. Khan said Dubey had written of the irregularities in the preparation of tenders, the award of contracts and the procurement of materials. "But the National Highway Authority of India and the Union Surface Transport Ministry have not initiated any probe on the exposure," the Minister said. Although Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee himself promised that those behind Dubey's murder would not be spared, sinister forces may be at work to delay, if not prevent, justice being done in the case.

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