More than a month after a 17-year-old special needs boy went missing from Colaba, local residents have come together to search for him across Mumbai. The family claims they are getting calls from people as far as Virar and Panvel, who claim to have spotted the missing teenager. But the police and family have so far only managed to get CCTV grabs of the child at various railway stations.
The Railway Police Force (RPF) has also initiated an inquiry against its own officer who forced the teenager to board a Sindhudurg train at Panvel station instead of reporting him to Child Line.
Tarun Gupta, who suffers from autism, was last spotted at Sawantwadi railway station in Sindhudurg on October 3 in a CCTV grab where he was crying and asking people for food. He sat on the platform for an hour before taking Janshatabdi Express train back to Mumbai. Three days before that, on October 1, he went missing from his Colaba home.
The teenager was playing near a balloon shop in Colaba when an election rally passed by with drums and music on October 1 afternoon. “The videos that locals showed us had him dancing in the rally. Usually he does not even cross a road by himself,” said father Vinod Gupta. The rally ended near Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, where he lost his way.
Tarun, in his black t-shirt and blue half pants, wore no spectacles and has only 20 per cent vision without it. He took a Panvel train from CSMT and CCTV footage shows he stayed at Panvel station for two days. By the time the Guptas reached Panvel station on October 8, they were informed by the local RPF that one officer made Tarun sit on Sawantwadi-bound Tutari Express.
“The RPF said they saw him for two days on the station. Since he was troubling him for food and water, one RPF constable took him by hand and made him sit in cargo section of the train at 1.20 am on October 3,” said Vinod. The family blames the RPF for forcefully making the child sit in the train from Panvel instead of referring him to local police.
The family flew to Goa, and reached Sawantwadi station on October 8 only to find more CCTV footage of Tarun in which people offered him food and he was crying. This was video grab of October 3, within an hour the boy boarded the Mumbai-bound Janshatabdi Express.
The family reached out to each station on the way back to Mumbai, and a ticket collector informed them that he spotted Tarun till Panvel station in a train. “We were told that he had taken a seat and refused to move to make room for another passenger. He kept crying. Eventually they made him sit on the floor and offered food,” the father said.
After Panvel, the train stops at Thane and ends at Dadar, but CCTV cameras have offered no lead. The police suspect the boy must have been missed by the cameras as he made his way out of station. In the last one month, the police have received reports of Tarun being spotted in Virar, Bandra and Kandivali.
“With elections, police were diverted with bandobast. We are doing what the police’s job is,” the father said. But Sanjay Kamble, senior police inspector at MRA Marg police station, said, “Our team is visiting all locations from where we are getting calls that he was spotted. So far, there have been no confirmations. We don’t know if he alighted at Panvel, Thane or Dadar.”
His posters have been circulated and all other police stations have been informed.
Meanwhile, the RPF has initiated an inquiry into why the constable boarded the child on Tutari Express. “As per protocol, RPF is supposed to inform Child Welfare Committee or Child Line. We are inquiring into why the constable didn’t report the child to these authorities,” said KK Ashraf, senior divisional security commissioner, Central Railway (Mumbai).