Twenty-Eight Years After Surat Murder, Time For Accountability

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Twenty-Eight Years After Surat Murder, Time For Accountability

| Updated: February 26, 2023 21:12

Not only is this a story of truth prevailing, even if after 28 years, but as much about the grit of two constables and their police inspector wanting to trail an old file to take justice to its logical end. 

As it turned out, the culprits had moved on, the victim long dead, gone and forgotten and most of his progeny not even aware of the heinous end. But that one FIR living in an old file at Pandesara police station in Surat was the key to unlocking a saga of truth. 

Krishna Pradhan, now 52, a native of Balkonda village in Odisha’s Ganjam district, ran away after murdering fellow Odia migrant, 22-year-old Shivram Nayak. The incident dates back to March 4, 1995. In collusion with roomie Bina Shetty, Pradhan avenged the insults piled on him earlier that day by Nayak. 

Annoyed at the persistent barking by Nayak’s adopted stray dog, Pradhan took a stick and started hitting the dog. However, Nayak intervened and hurled insults at the duo, who worked largely as contractual carpenters, while Nayak had managed to set up his own small paan kiosk. 

Unable to reconcile to the slurs, the two called him out later that night and in a brutal manner, struck him down. The body was disposed off at a nearby canal in Gautam Nagar. The killers then fled Surat that night. 

A passer-by stumbled upon Shivram’s body the following day and informed the Pandesara police station. Kumar Uday Nayak, Shivram’s elder brother, lodged a complaint against Pradhan and Shetty at Pandesara police station on March 5, 1995. A case was registered under Sections 302 (murder), 201 (causing disappearance of evidence) and 114 (abettor present when offence is committed) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

However, with little evidence left after the killers vanished into thin air and those days not being the era of CCTV footage, the case eventually “went cold.” 

In 2022, nearly 27 years later, Surat Police Commissioner Ajay Kumar Tomar asked his officers for the names of 15 accused in cold cases involving heinous crimes like rape, murder, dacoity, etc. One of the names on that was Pradhan’s. Crime Branch inspector L D Vagadiya assigned Shivram’s case to Surat city Crime Branch sub-inspector P.Y. Chitte. All that remained to help was a black and white photograph of Shivram’s body.

 “It seemed like a dead-end case but my head constables Shabbir Shaikh and Farid Khan refused to give up. The case papers were in a pathetic shape. Still, we studied them carefully and decided to start our investigation from the beginning. My team reached street number 11 to make enquiries. Here we hit yet another dead end. Everything had changed. Nobody knew anything about a 1995 murder. We went back to the FIR. It mentioned Balkonda village in Ganjam. We went there, only to discover that the families had shifted. My team reached out to its informers for help,” stated Chitte. 

He continued: “We struck gold when one of the informers told us that Pradhan’s son was working at an automobile showroom in Brahmapur while pursuing his master’s degree. We managed to get the son’s mobile number from the showroom and got his call data records (CDR). We focused on telephone numbers that he used frequently. Without contacting the son, technical surveillance helped us net Pradhan.”

At the time of his arrest, Pradhan was working at a timber mart at Adoor in Kerala. He was brought to Surat.

Chitte added: “During interrogation, Pradhan told us that he had no money on the night of the murder. He sold off his bicycle for Rs 300, which he used to purchase a train ticket to Odisha. After reaching his village, he told his brother and parents about the incident. The family packed up and immediately shifted to Masabadi block nearby. Six years after the murder, Pradhan got married in Brahmapur village. He worked as a carpenter till 2007 before shifting to Adoor, where his cousin worked at a timber mart, while his family stayed back in Odisha. Pradhan went on to have two children, a son and a daughter, now 16. Pradhan visited Brahmapur once in a while but spoke to his family over telephone quite regularly.”

Back in Siddharthnagar, which still houses thousands of migrants across half a kilometre, nobody has heard of Pradhan or Shivram.

The canal in where Shivram’s body was found is now a motorable road. Life moved on but justice was lurking around…. perhaps waiting to be delivered.

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