‘CBI for SSR’, ‘CBI for Sushant’ and ‘CBI for son of Bihar’ - these are just some of the hashtags that have been trending on Twitter for the last few days, each one being tweeted and retweeted by millions. Almost every politician in Bihar and Maharashtra has spoken in favour or against of a CBI probe in the case, and there has been wall to wall coverage on news channels.
It is in this backdrop that the Central Bureau of Investigation has started its probe into the death of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput. So how easy or difficult will it be for the agency, and what will be the biggest challenges in the probe?
Time lapse - In special crime cases (non-financial crimes), time is of essence to investigators. The greater the delay in the investigating team reaching the crime scene, the bigger is the challenge to unearth the truth. But CBI has a history of getting cases only after lapse of months, and in some cases, years.
CBI officials point out how in blind cases like the Jaya Bharti case where a Ranchi student was murdered, the agency managed to not just arrest accused Rahul Kumar but also secure the death sentence from the court. High profile cases from Delhi-NCR like the Gurugram school murder and the Aarushi Talwar case all came to CBI after the state police investigation led in a completely different direction.
Crime Scene/Place of occurrence – The crime scene or the place of occurrence in a death by suicide is at the heart of such investigations. All kinds of allegations have been made about tampering of crime scene, mishandling of body and even the post mortem.
If investigators reach the scene of crime two months after the incident, like in this case, the advantage of being the first responder is gone. CBI usually depends on forensic experts from AIIMS to tide over the disadvantage and officials say in this case, too, a forensic team will be formed. The team would comb through Sushant Singh Rajput's house to look for any evidence that could give them an insight into his last moments. The CBI’s SIT, as per sources could recreate the events leading up to the death.
A challenge here could be that Mumbai Police - the first responder, the agency which was supposed to preserve evidence, itself has faced accusations. The agency would be hoping that the place of occurrence would have been preserved.
"The photographs and the videography of the body will be crucial to come to any conclusion. The post mortem report will provide evidence of whether the hanging was post mortem - leading to death or ante mortem - hanged after death," a former CBI director told News18.
The charge – The CBI FIR on this case are under sections 120B, 306, 341, 342, 380, 406, 420, 506 of IPC dealing with criminal conspiracy, abetment to suicide, wrongful restraint and confinement, theft, breach of trust, cheating and criminal intimidation.
As per officials the substantive charge here is 306 - abetment to suicide. "Abetment is a difficult charge to prove. It was brought in for cases like dowry and Sati. In this case if Rhea left the house a week earlier it will be difficult to prove abetment since in this charge, immediate trigger leading to suicide has to be established," a former CBI director told News18.
He added that absence of a suicide note could add to the challenge. “In the VG Siddhartha case, where the Cafe Coffee Day owner jumped to his death, allegations were made against Income tax officials who were said to have pressured him. A note written by Siddhartha also surfaced, yet no abetment charge was made out," the former director said.
Recent cases where abetment to suicide charges were pressed were the Sunanda Pushkar case and the Jiah Khan case. Delhi police charged Shashi Tharoor for abetment and cruelty, a charge he called preposterous and is contesting at the trial.
The CBI charged Jiah Khan's then boyfriend Sooraj Pancholi with abetment to suicide under Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The case is still in court. Jiah's mother, however, alleges this was a case of murder, which was watered down by CBI under pressure.
It is this pressure that former Delhi police commissioner Neeraj Kumar says will be most challenging for CBI. "There is an assumption in the minds of people that this is a case of murder. But no one should expect CBI to prove that this case is that of murder if it isn't. The lack of suicide note does not mean murder. Experts have given evidence suicide notes are not written in spur of the moment cases. Abetment also we are presuming - that financial fraud or outsider tag could be reason for suicide," Kumar, who served in the CBI earlier, told News18.
He pointed out that in Badayun case where murder of two girls was being passed off as suicide, CBI did unravel the truth even though they were handed over the case late. "Both in Badaun and Gurugram cases, they unearthed the truth but just because we assume something we can expect them to prove our assumption," he said.
All former and current police officers News18 spoke to said that the biggest challenge for CBI would be to convincingly answer the unanswered questions.
"People have asked where was Sushant's dog at the time of incident? Why were two ambulances called? It has been said that the cloth used to hang him could not have taken his weight. These have to be answered. A dummy test for example will answer the question of strength of cloth," Neeraj Kumar said.