A gangster fed up with paying bribes, a jailer angered by gossip and wanting vengeance, and corruption and assault — these new threads are central to the Central Bureau of Investigation’s version of events in the murder probe of Ankit Gujjar, killed inside Tihar jail a year ago.
On August 4, 2021, 29-year-old Gujjar, accused in at least eight murder cases, and lodged in jail number 3 at the time, was found dead inside the high security prison. Police and prison officials have thus far maintained that Gujjar, one of western Uttar Pradesh’s dreaded gangsters, had died during a scuffle when he resisted attempts by wardens to search his cell, during which he allegedly slapped a prison official.
But, in a damning indictment of the role of senior jailers, an affidavit filed by the CBI in the Delhi high court on May 21 claimed that the murder was an act of revenge, a premeditated assault by six jail wardens that led to a brutal end to a chain of events that began two months prior to the killing. The CBI took over the case on September 8 last year.
On July 29, the central agency arrested assistant superintendent Dinesh Dabas and head warder Deepak Chikara on charges of murder. Before that, on May 5, the main accused in the case, deputy superintendent Narender Meena, was arrested as well, and other officers were under investigation. The three officials are now lodged inside Tihar jail.
HT has seen a copy of the affidavit, documenting an extensive version of events after interviewing 113 witnesses.
Corruption in prison
Gujjar, who was in Tihar Jail since August 2020, had been “providing money to jail officers through different sources for favours,” the CBI’s affidavit says. He had access to different cellphones, ordinarily banned within prison premises, it says. As evidence, the affidavit notes several phone numbers that Gujjar allegedly used.
The CBI’s version of events, however, says that sometime in June 2021, Gujjar’s relationship within prison officials soured. Jailers seized one mobile phone from him, and there were rumours that were spread among inmates that “deputy superintendent Narender Meena was a miser and he would go to any extent to extort money from inmates.” The CBI records that Meena believed that the “story was being propagated by Gujjar and thus he developed a grudge against him.”
Around the same time, the affidavit says, Meena had demanded ₹5 lakh from Gujjar to facilitate the use of a cellphone. A sewadaar (prison volunteer) “mediated between them and settled for ₹225,000.” Gujjar arranged for ₹2 lakh and the money was handed over to the head warder inside the jail canteen by Gujjar’s accomplices, according to the affidavit.
But, after this money was paid, Gujjar’s friend, Rohit Chaudhary, a gangster also in the jail, “reprimanded Gujjar for paying a huge amount for such petty issues.” The two met at a jail dispensary.
Delhi police have in the past said Gujjar merged his gang with Chaudhary’s around 2019-20 to expand their criminal network. After Chaudhary’s intervention, Gujjar told the sewadaar that he would not pay the remaining ₹25,000 to the deputy superintendent.
“Investigation further revealed that after getting the aforesaid information, applicant (deputy superintendent Meena) got further infuriated and started harassing Gujjar and two other cell mates and started waiting for the appropriate opportunity to take revenge,” reads the CBI’s affidavit.
Detailing the sequence of events that led to Gujjar’s murder on August 4, the investigating officer has said that at around 3pm the day before, a CCTV technician found a cellphone hidden on a rack between cell 13 and cell 26 of ward 5A, after which he informed the jail superintendent. The superintendent asked three officials — head warder Naveen, head warder Bunty and warder Rohit — to retrieve the cellphone.
On their way to the cell, the trio met deputy superintendent Meena, who directed assistant superintendents Deepak Dabas and Rajesh to join them, conduct a search and retrieve the phone. At around 3pm, the search team found a handmade knife, cellphone and a USB data cable from cell 16 in ward 5A, where Gujjar was lodged along with two inmates, Gurjeet and Gurpreet.
The CBI’s investigation revealed that at this point, Gujjar was not in Tihar jail and was in fact in Jhajjar, Haryana, where he had been produced before a local court, from where he returned only at 6:30pm. Before he could do this, the jail superintendent issued orders to transfer Gujjar to another jail.
A warder named Shiva was entrusted with the task of informing Gujjar about his transfer to ward 1A, but Gujjar refused on the grounds that a man from a rival gang, named Vinod Chavanni, was lodged there.
It was then that deputy superintendent Meena went to Gujjar’s cell in ward 5A and they got into a heated argument.
The CBI’s affidavit quotes warder Shiva’s witness statement, who claimed he heard Gujjar shouting: “aur kahan tak paisa do tumhe (how much more money should I give you)”. Upon this, Meena allegedly slapped Gujjar, who returned the favour. “This led to a fisticuff between them and they were separated by other jail staff and sewadaars present,” said the CBI.
It was the beginning of the end.
“I will kill you before midnight”
Immediately after the melee, Meena went to the superintendent and sought permission to raise an alarm, but it was rejected because it was around 6.30pm, and all the prisoners were already locked in their cells. The CBI said Meena then unilaterally assembled jail personnel outside ward 5A, and told them to bring Gujjar, Gurjeet and Gurpreet.
Six jail officers then allegedly assaulted the three inmates with polycarbonate lathis. “While using criminal force, vital parts of Ankit Gujjar were targeted by jail officials. As per the statement of eyewitnesses, applicant (Meena) put his foot over the neck of Ankit Gujjar and said, “Aakhri baar dekh le mujhe, aaj barah baje se pehle maar dunga tujhe (Look at my face for the last time, as I will kill you before midnight),” reads the CBI affidavit.
The assault lasted for at least half an hour, the CBI said, with DNA samples collected from the batons matching with Gujjar. It added that an assistant superintendent urged Meena to send Gujjar for medical aid but was met with the response, “Koi medical nahin karana, ek round aur khelengay (there will be no medical examination, we will play another round).”
Meena then instructed the personnel present to transfer the three to ward 1A. “Gujjar was put in a trolley used to carry food, seen by nursing orderly Mohammed Ubesh. The other two inmates were carried by jail staff and other inmates as they could not walk on their own,” the affidavit says.
The CBI has quoted eyewitnesses who saw and heard Gujjar groaning in pain till the wee hours of the next morning, even as the doctor who was deputed to look into Gujjar’s medical state instead sent a nurse and did not note the extent of injuries. Gujjar was kept alone in a cell in ward 1A. The other two prisoners were shifted to a different cell, also in ward 1A.
On the morning of August 4, when a head warder announced Gujjar’s name and asked him to exit his cell, there was no response. A team of doctors that went inside found him unconscious. Gujjar was taken to the jail hospital and was declared dead at 07:15 hours.