5 cases, 20 days, UP don acquitted as witnesses, cops turn hostile

Mafia don Brijesh Singh, who carried a reward of Rs 5 lakh on his head till he was caught in Orissa last year, has been acquitted in five murder cases over the last 20 days — because witnesses in each case turned hostile.

Among those who went back on their statements are policemen, close relatives of the victims, and people who had lodged FIRs naming Brijesh Singh as the accused.

The don is currently in Varanasi Central Jail, facing 17 cases in which he has been accused of heinous crimes, including several murders, in various districts of Uttar Pradesh.

The five acquittals, between August 19 and September 7, have caused a sensation in the legal community, and underscored the need for a comprehensive witness protection programme which has been repeatedly spoken about in the country.

Varanasi District Government Counsel Pradip Kumar Saxena, who appeared in all five cases, said, "The court of Additional District Judge P K Srivastava, while ordering acquittals in all five cases, observed that the examination of key witnesses, including the complainants, did not corroborate the statements earlier filed by the prosecution."

Brijesh Singh's co-accused in these cases had been acquitted earlier. Then too, most of the witnesses had turned hostile, Saxena said. "Action should be initiated against such policemen who turned hostile," he added.

I-G, Varanasi Range, Gurdarshan Singh, however, said he was "not aware of cases where policemen have turned hostile". Additional Director General (Law and Order) Brij Lal too said he did not know of any policemen who had turned hostile.

The don, once accused in the September 12, 1992 JJ Hospital shooting — when 24 gunmen armed with AK-47s and 9 mm pistols stormed the Mumbai hospital and shot dead an alleged Arun Gawli gangster and two policeman watching over him — had been on the run since 1986. He was captured in Orissa on January 23, 2008.

The five cases in which he was acquitted:

Varanasi District Court shooting, December 11, 1991: Armed men fired at undertrial Maya Shanker Singh as he stepped out of the court. Maya was hit in the chest and arm; constable Baikunth Nath Pandey, who was escorting him, was killed.

On May 22, 2009, Maya told the court, "I fainted... could not identify the assailants. But Brijesh Singh was certainly not among them."

Police sub-inspector Suryabhan Singh, who had escorted Maya to court on the day of the shooting, told the trial court on June 26, 2009 that he hadn't seen the shooters, but Maya had told him later that Brijesh Singh was among them.

Mushtaq Ahmed, then Additional District Government Counsel, told the court: "I did not see Brijesh Singh...."

Lal Bahadur, a court peon, said: "I was inside... could not see the shooters."

Brijesh was acquitted on August 22.

Shooting at hair-dressing salon in Chetganj, Varanasi, March 29, 1990: Men in a Maruti shot at Ashok Kumar Jaiswal, manager of a travel agency, inside the salon. Jaiswal died on way to hospital.

Madan Singh, owner of the building and complainant, told the court on March 20, 2009: "I was on the other side... people told me shooters were in a car. Brijesh Singh was not seen at the spot. A sub-inspector at the police station later asked me to sign on a paper on which he had already written."

Salon employee B N Sharma said he had stepped out when the firing started. "The S-I forcibly took my signature on a blank paper and wrote whatever he wanted."

Brijesh was acquitted on August 19.

Chaubepur, Varanasi, December 18, 1988: Rajiv Kumar Singh, considered Brijesh's rival, shot dead.

Rajiv's father Shambunath Singh who, according to police, was an eyewitness, told the court on March 6, 2009: "It was dark... I could not see the assailants. But Brijesh Singh was not among them. The S-I at the police station did not record my statement, he wrote it on his own. Some people asked me about Brijesh, and I then named him."

Satish Singh, another police witness, said he was not on the spot. "The S-I gave my name on his own."

Witness Rama Yadav said, "Brijesh belongs to my village, I know him. He was not among the assailants. The S-I gave my name as witness on his own."

Brijesh was acquitted on August 19.

Murder in Varanasi Cantonment, November 19, 1989: Contractor Khunti Singh alias Rajiv Singh shot dead.

Victim's father and complainant Dinesh Chandra Singh told the court on January 30, 2009: "My son's friend Rohit told me that two motorcycle-borne youths shot him. My son had told me two days ago about threats from Kalidas (a close aide of Brijesh's, killed in an encounter some years ago). But Brijesh was not among the shooters."

Rohit Singh, police witness, said: "I saw the assailants. Brijesh Singh was not among them."

Eyewitness Shakeel Ahmed, who informed Dinesh Singh about his son's murder, said, "I did not see the murder. Locals informed me. The S-I later got some papers signed by me."

Brijesh was acquitted on September 7.

Attack on the then Varanasi Deputy Mayor Anil Singh in Cantonment area on August 20, 1991: He survived, but died of illness a few years ago.

In his FIR, Anil Singh said a man called Ajay Rai and some others fired at his jeep. Brijesh Singh's name came up later during investigation.

Hari Prakash Singh, who was in Anil Singh's jeep, told the court on May 22, 2009: "Brijesh Singh was not among the shooters. The S-I never recorded my statement."

Vipin, who too was with Anil Singh, told the court on July 18, 2009, that he had fainted when the firing started, but Brijesh was not at the spot. Police did not record his statement, he said.

Police gunner Ram Vriksha Ram who escaped unhurt in the attack, told the court on August 25, 2009: "I did not see Brijesh Singh. I do not know who the attackers were."

Brijesh was acquitted on September 7.

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