Night of Shame: How Delhi Police cracked the Dec 16 case

Then police commissioner Neeraj Kumar recounts the indefatigable investigation

Neeraj Kumar | December 16, 2019


#crime against women   #Rape   #murder   #Nirbhaya   #Delhi  
(Illustration: Ashish Asthana)
(Illustration: Ashish Asthana)

This is an excerpt from 'Khaki Files' (published in Ebury Press and Blue Salt by Penguin Random House India, 2019) by Neeraj Kumar, a distinguished IPS officer who retired as Delhi police commissioner in 2013. He narrates several high-profile cases during his last assignment, and in the chapter titled 'Night of Shame', he details the swift police response after a young woman was brutally raped on the night of December 16, 2012.

I was then posted as the commissioner of police, Delhi, and was barely six months into my assignment after thirty-six years in the police force. This was going to be my last assignment before I retired. I certainly wished to sign off after a successful stint. Little did I know that the most testing time of my career was to come within six months of my taking over as the chief of Delhi Police.

The news reached the control room at my residence in real time. The wireless operator on duty that night woke me up. The information given to me then was sketchy, and since DCP Chhaya was at the scene, I felt reassured and tried to go back to sleep. However, I was restless for the rest of the night, checking on developments in the case every now and then.

At the hospital, DCP Chhaya heard the shocking details of the case from Awindra, particularly about the way Nirbhaya had been assaulted and the kind of injuries inflicted on her. She met Nirbhaya in the ICU and saw her pitiable condition. She was appalled and traumatized as never before in her career. The DCP found it difficult to come to terms with the extent to which Nirbhaya had been violated and brutalized by those depraved men.

No matter how much we in the police are trained and exposed to ghastly crimes, mutilated bodies and the brutish side of mankind, there are some moments in our careers when human weakness gets the better of us. It is to DCP Chhaya’s credit that she pulled herself together, collected her wits and continued with the job at hand.

Based on the details given by Awindra about the bus in which the horrific crime had been committed, DCP Chhaya sent out a wireless message through the central PCR for all PCR vans and police patrols to look for a white bus with green and yellow stripes on it. Border check posts were alerted to intercept white buses matching the description.

She then went to the Vasant Vihar police station with Awindra, and based on his statement, registered a case of rape, abduction, armed robbery with attempt to murder and entrusted the investigation to SI Pratibha Sharma.

The DCP realized that this was, in Delhi Police jargon, a ‘very bad case’, and she had to take swift action. In the absence of any worthwhile clues, she knew that if the case was to be cracked, locating the bus was critical. All that was known from Awindra’s account, besides its colour and the stripes painted on its sides, was that it had a separate driver’s cabin, red seat covers and yellow curtains, and that the hubcap of the front left wheel was missing.

She summoned the ten best inspectors of the south district to the Vasant Vihar police station with their respective teams. Inspector Rajender Singh of the Special Staff—an experienced and versatile officer—was the star investigator amongst them. DCP Chhaya allocated specific jobs to each inspector and made the police station her mission control room. None of them went home for five days and nights, not until the last accused had been arrested.

One team left for the Delhi Transport Department to get details of all white buses registered with them. Transport department officials were woken up and pulled out of the comfort of their beds. By about 5 a.m., the police had the details of 320 white buses. The team began to look for these buses and their owners that were based in Delhi, as well as for other white buses at the bus terminals in neighbouring states.

Another team led by SI Pratibha Sharma, the investigating officer on the case, completed formalities at the hospital and visited the spot where the two youngsters had been found.
She collected samples of bloodstained grass and leaves from nearby bushes, dirt soaked with blood and so on and sealed them securely.

Inspector Rajender Singh and two other teams scoured the CCTV footage from all hotels and guest houses on the national highway opposite the crime scene. Interestingly, the police teams noticed a white bus with ‘Yadav’ painted on its side in the CCTV footage of Hotel Delhi Airport. The bus was seen coming from Delhi, seemingly heading for Gurugram, but within nineteen minutes, at 9.53 p.m., it reappeared on the screen, heading again in the same direction. The obvious conclusion was that it had taken a U-turn from under the flyover located close by, proceeded towards Delhi instead of going towards Gurugram, and had again turned around to drive towards Gurugram.

The CCTV footage of the white bus was shown to Awindra, who confirmed that it indeed looked like the bus he had boarded. He looked intently at the front left wheel, and sure enough, it did not have a hubcap. [...]
 

(Excerpt reproduced with permission of the publishers.)

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