Where is the common sense?

Last Updated: Thu, Mar 07, 2013 20:54 hrs

Each time a policeman comes to testify in the Aarushi-Hemraj murder trial, he seems to assume that common sense exits the tiny courtroom in Ghaziabad the moment someone in uniform enters. Sub-inspector Dataram Nanoria, the first investing officer in the Aarushi murder trial, on Thursday stuck to his stand that the cooler panel that covered Hemraj's rotting corpse on the terrace of the accused couple Dr Rajesh and Nupur Talwar's flat, was too large and heavy to be seized as evidence.

Nanoria admitted he didn't have an idea about the weight of the panel. He hadn't weighed it, he said.

So here is where common sense needed to be recalled to court: How could the Talwars, a couple of average build, manage to lift, shift and place an item so heavy exactly where they wanted it, when a posse of policemen (there were at least half a dozen present) could not manage the same feat of strength?

The cooler panel actually had handles, as these things usually do, to make moving them around convenient. "He was confronted with police photographs where the handles were visible, but refused to admit that he could see them", said defence counsel Tanveer Ahmed Mir, with a chuckle. The handles could have yielded fingerprints; other parts of the panel may have had bloodstains. But Nanoria didn't take it in as evidence: too heavy.

What was Nanoria doing on the terrace of the the Talwars' NOIDA flat on the morning of 17 May 2008, when it came to light that two murders had been commited, not just one?

Th transcript of his cross-examination suggests that he had temporarily lost his sight. (One of his underlings has already claimed an olfactory deficiency, making this a genuinely specially abled investigating team.) Nanoria says he didn't seize the bedsheet hung just a few feet from where the Talwars' servant lay—a crude device used by the killer(s) to prevent clear sight of the body from the adjacent terrace. Again he was shown photographs, and again, he couldn't explain why the sheet wasn't seized.

The way the case has been constructed, each non-seizure, each failure by the police to assume custody of articles or secure locations, is seen as an act of suppression or destruction of evidence by the accused.

Why did the Talwars have Aarushi's room cleaned on the evening of 16 May, the day of the murder, the prosecution now asks. The defence says the cops were all over the flat and never objected. Why did they have grills removed and paintjobs done? The defence says several months had passed since the murders, and the police never took the place over for investigation. The list of such failures—or infractions—depending on whether it is the prosecution or defence making the claim, is long.

As of now, Nanoria's cross-examination will focus on the serial bunglings during the two days he was in charge. Given the time this policeman takes to answer a question (4-5 minutes), Thursday's hearing was too brief: pressure on the court to hear other cases meant only an hour devoted to this trial. Nanoria has about 90 more questions to answer. So this might take a while.

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Avirook Sen has been a journalist and writer for over 20 years. A former resident editor of Hindustan Times (Mumbai) and editor of Mid-Day, he has written with passion and insight on subjects as varied as sport and terrorism for top publications across the world. His first book, Looking for America, was published in 2010 to enthusiastic reviews. You can write to him at avirook@gmail.com

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