If X-ray does not show bullet’s trajectory, original has been swapped: Grandfather of farmer Navreet Singh

Hardeep Singh Dibdiba (centre) at a demonstration for his grandson Navreet Singh, at the Ghazipur site of the ongoing farmers agitation, on 13 February. Navreet died during a tractor rally on 26 January, held to mark the farmers’ protest. Dibdiba has approached the Delhi High Court seeking an investigation into his death. Sakib Ali/Hindustan Times/Getty Images
07 March, 2021

On 4 March, the Delhi High Court judge Yogesh Khanna directed the Uttar Pradesh Police and the chief medical officer of the Rampur District Hospital to provide the original X-ray plate and video of the post-mortem examination of Navreet Singh to the Delhi Police. Navreet, a farmer from Rampur, had died on 26 January while participating in a tractor rally against the recently enacted farm laws. Khanna passed the order while hearing a petition by Navreet’s grandfather, Hardeep Singh Dibdiba, seeking an independent investigation into the 25-year-old farmer’s death. Following the order, Dibdiba arrived at the Singhu border along with his son and nephew, who had seen the original X-ray on 27 January when it was conducted. “If the X-ray plate to be shown to us has a missing margin or trajectory of a bullet, it would mean that the original X-ray has been swapped,” Dibdiba told me.

“Three members from the family will see the original X-ray plate and the video recording, including my nephew—who was present in the X-ray room when the X-ray was being conducted—my son and myself,” Dibdiba said. “My nephew will ascertain or verify if it is the same X-ray plate that he saw earlier.” Dibdiba said the original X-ray showed a “three-inch long bullet trajectory” that clearly depicted the entry and the exit points of the bullet. Navreet’s post-mortem report had shown, among other injuries, a lacerated wound with “inverted and bone deep” margins over the left side of his chin, and another lacerated wound over the right ear with “irregular and everted” margins and “ear ossicles and brain matter coming out.”

As The Caravan reported earlier, eyewitnesses to Navreet’s death said that Delhi Police officials shot him outside the Andhra Education Society, in central Delhi, causing his tractor to overturn. The post-mortem report revealed injuries that, according to multiple forensic experts, could only be caused by bullets. Dibdiba and his nephew—Navreet’s uncle—were present at the District Hospital in Rampur when the post-mortem was conducted, and said that the doctors conducting the examination admitted to them that the injuries were caused by bullet wounds. The Delhi Police, however, maintain that Navreet died by accident, by crashing into a police barricade while driving his tractor at a high speed.

Dibdiba said that he had asked Subodh Sharma, the CMO at the Rampur district hospital, for the X-ray plate on the night of Navreet’s death, when the post-mortem and X-ray was conducted, and again on 30 January, but was refused both times. He said the CMO told him, “No, we absolute cannot give it.” When previously contacted by The Caravan for a response to this allegation, Sharma had said, “We are only liable to speak in a court of law.”

In his petition, Dibdiba asked for a “court appointed and court monitored Special Investigation Team comprising police officers with a demonstrable impeccable record of professional integrity, honesty, and efficiency, to carry out a time bound investigation” into his grandson’s death. He also sought directions from the court for the authorities to provide his family with copies of an X-ray report of the body and the video recording of the post-mortem. Khanna had issued notice to the Uttar Pradesh Police and the CMO of the District Hospital after the first hearing, on 11 February.

On 25 February, Rahul Mehra, a standing counsel with the Delhi government, submitted a status report on behalf of the Delhi Police. The status report noted—as Mehra emphatically repeated during the subsequent hearing on 4 March—that the CMO had not provided the X-ray plate despite receiving three notices for the same from the Delhi Police. Mehra also repeated the assertion in the status report that the Uttar Pradesh Police had similarly refused to provide the post-mortem video despite three notices from the Delhi Police.

On 24 February, Garima Prashad, a standing counsel for the state of Uttar Pradesh, submitted a joint status report on behalf of the CMO and the Uttar Pradesh Police. The report stated, “The X-Ray plates were viewed by panel of doctors doing post-mortem which prima facie showed that there was no gun shot injury in the body of the deceased.” This directly contradicts the statements of Dibdiba and his nephew, who have repeatedly stated that the X-ray plate showed to the family at the time it was conducted clearly showed the path of a bullet travelling through Navreet’s head.

A forensic expert with 13 years of experience with post-mortems, who is also a senior resident at one of the leading government medical institutions in the country, had examined the post-mortem report and discussed it with The Caravan. According to the expert, the only possible explanation for the injuries recorded by the doctors is that Navreet was hit by two bullets. Referring to the injuries described in the post-mortem report, the expert said that “margins are inverted when the force is from outside to inside,” and that “everted means force is from in to out.” The expert added, “The ear ossicles are two to three centimeters below the external circle of the head, towards the brain. It is impossible to drag them out, unless the force is coming from inside to outside … I don’t think anything other than a bullet can make that wound.”

The expert had further noted, “See, if somebody is hit on the floor or road, or tractor, or trolley, or tire, or anything, it will not be the same … They have not recorded grazed abrasions anywhere, which would suggest a sliding fall on the road.” The post-mortem report did not specify the cause of the injuries sustained by Navreet. In its status report, the Delhi Police noted that it had written a letter to the District Hospital “for getting opinion as to whether the injuries found on the body of Navreet Singh were possible due to road accident.” The status report added, “The opinion of the board of doctors has been obtained which states all the injuries caused to deceased Navreet are possible in road accident.” The Delhi Police’s status report is silent on whether it asked the board of doctors if gunshots could have caused Navreet’s injuries, or even whether the doctors ruled out such a possibility.

During the hearing on 4 March, Prashad submitted that the state had no objections to providing the X-ray and the video. She further stated that the post-mortem video had been provided to the superintendent of Rampur police on 27 February. Accordingly, Khanna ordered that the X-ray plate and the video be submitted to the investigating officer in Delhi, Inspector Ram Manohar of the Delhi Police’s crime branch, at his office on 5 March at 2 pm.

Prashad had initially submitted during the hearing that copies would be provided to the Delhi Police, but Khanna ordered that the Delhi Police must be provided the originals to be kept in their custody. Mehra further submitted to the court that the Delhi Police would provide a copy of the post-mortem video and of the inquest papers into Navreet’s death to the petitioner, Dibdiba.

Dibdiba’s petition had also asked for the raw CCTV footage from the area where Navreet died to be placed on record. In the 4 March hearing, Mehra informed the court that the Delhi Police had in its possession the footage from 12 CCTV cameras in the area. He said that Dibdiba or his lawyer, Grover, could examine the footage at Ram Manohar’s office, but could not be provided a copy. Grover did not raise any objection to this condition, and the court directed that “the date and time of same may be decided mutually by them.”

Dibdiba said that he and his family are now at Delhi’s Singhu border, prepared to examine the X-ray plate and verify its authenticity. The case is listed for its next hearing on 17 March.