Police dodge death probe drill

A Staff Reporter

Calcutta, April 11: Investigators are yet to initiate several standard probe procedures in the 16 days since the death of Piyali Mukherjee who had exchanged a flurry of calls with phones used by transport minister Madan Mitra, police sources said.

Even the statements of those who had contacted her last have not been recorded, the sources added.

Her call records have revealed that Piyali, a Trinamul Chhatra Parishad leader from Burdwan who was pursuing a career in law in Calcutta, made her last call to one of many phones associated with Mitra.

The Bidhannagar police commissionerate sources said the investigating team had not questioned any of those using the numbers Piyali, 28, had been in touch with on March 26, the day she was found hanging in a rented New Town flat.

The Telegraph had yesterday reported that Piyali's last call to the Vodafone number Mitra has been using for several years followed a call from another number (Airtel) that too is associated with the minister.

Officially, the police have declined to reveal the progress of investigations, suggesting that disclosures could hamper the probe.

This newspaper had reported that Piyali's call details, available with the police, show she and Mitra had spoken 75 times in the last 10 days of her life. Asked about it, Mitra had said that since an inquiry was on, he would speak only to the police.

"If the police ask, I will tell them," he had said, lending credence to the charge that the force hadn't questioned him.

In the absence of a specific complaint from Piyali's family, the Bidhannagar police had started a case of "unnatural death". The police have neither admitted nor denied the discovery of a suicide note ' usually a key piece of evidence if a case of abetment of suicide is to be started.

The police sources said a handwritten note was found at the spot on March 26.

Going by the rulebook, the note should have been sent to a handwriting expert along with a sample of Piyali's handwriting. The sources said it had taken the investigators nine days to go back to the flat and seize some documents that carried Piyali's handwriting. They could not say whether handwriting experts had been approached.

The sources said the flat was locked from inside (a point in favour of suicide) and in such cases, it was mandatory to collect fingerprints from the auto-lock on the main door. "The police, however, broke the door open and apparently did not collect fingerprints before touching the auto-lock themselves," a source said.

Apart from omitting to question Mitra, the sources said, the police had failed to take any initiative to locate Shekhar Agarwal of Rishra whose Vodafone number received two calls from Piyali minutes before she made her last call to a phone used by the transport minister.

Till now, the police are learnt to have recorded the statement only of Piyali's friend Rupkatha Banerjee who, the sources said, spoke to Piyali 17 times between March 22 and March 25. Banerjee's statement was recorded after she herself approached the police, they added.

The police have informally questioned the man who was Piyali's driver, Hemanta Manna. Unlike other days, Manna was not summoned by Piyali on March 26 but was "instructed" by someone to go to her flat and check on her after her phone became unresponsive, the sources said.

However, neither have the police recorded Manna's statement formally nor have they seized footage of the CCTV in the building lobby, the sources said. CCTV footage usually gets erased automatically after a fixed period of time.

A senior state home ministry official said it was apparent the police had ignored the standard procedures of handling a case of unnatural death. "It is surprising people who contacted the victim just before her death have not been questioned. An arrest is not mandatory, but how will the police get to the bottom of the case without questioning people who might hold vital information?" the official said.

Senior police officers not attached with the probe said the investigations would have been faster had the police opted for the "elimination theory". "In cases where rumours build around public figures, it is most important for the police to eliminate his or her involvement to restore people's faith in the administration," a senior IPS officer said.