NEW DELHI – A broken pistol found beside the body of Hardeep Chadha, brother of slain liquor baron Ponty Chadha, after their shootout on November 17 has strengthened police’s suspicion of a conspiracy behind the killings.
Hardeep reportedly came to the Chhatarpur farmhouse armed with two guns. “He could not have come with a broken pistol. Breaking of the .32 bore pistol appears to be a deliberate act, as shots were fired from a pistol of that calibre – we have recovered empty cartridges. We are probing if the pistol was planted near his body,” a senior officer said on Tuesday.
The crime branch on Tuesday sought help from CBI’s Central Forensic Lab unit which inspected the crime spot to establish the trajectory of the bullets that hit Ponty, and subsequently the walls of the farmhouse. Ponty’s driver and the gunman of Sukhdev Singh Namdhari, Sachin Tyagi, were taken to the farmhouse to recreate the scene of crime. Tyagi and Namdhari, sacked chef of Uttarakhand’s minorities commission, were with Ponty during the shootout.
“The CFSL unit measured the gaps between bullet holes – there are eight on the walls – and tried to establish from what angle, direction and position they could have been fired. Its report will be tallied with the witnesses’ accounts,” an officer said. Investigations so far indicate that Namdhari and Tyagi lied to police about the sequence of events. Their narrative of the incident in the past and even now is at odds with the recreated scene of crime.
A source said police are faced with three varying witness accounts of the shootout. The first is that Hardeep arrived at the scene and began arguing with his brother Ponty, who kicked him to the ground. Hardeep allegedly opened fire at his brother in anger. However, Namdhari and the other witnesses subsequently contradicted themselves by claiming Hardeep first shot Ponty’s security manager, Narender Ahlawat, in the ankle and another of his shots hit the gate. “An argument and scuffle after Hardeep opened fire is not plausible, keeping in mind that everybody was armed to shoot. Nobody would have given him a chance,” a source said.
The second version is that Hardeep arrived on the scene swearing at Ponty and opened fire without warning. But police say this is unlikely. “The family has told us that Hardeep was always respectful towards his elder brother, and would touch his feet before leaving home in the morning. He would not have abused Ponty. The witnesses have reported that Hardeep, who was alone, expressed his anger in Punjabi, saying ‘tu bhi aithe hai (you’re also here?)’ followed by an insult. This indicates Hardeep’s anger was directed at Namdhari, not Ponty,” the source added.
The third and most elaborate account that Hardeep arrived, shot at the guard Narender, killed Ponty, and then got killed by Tyagi as he took aim at Namdhari proved ridiculous when these men were made to take their positions during reconstruction of the crime scene. Namdhari had claimed he was hiding near the rear wheel of Ponty’s Land Cruiser but his PSO said he was firing with his revolver, and Namdhari too admitted this. Practically, firing from this position was not possible as the SUV posed a hurdle.
The officer also pointed out that if Hardeep was shot near the heart from a carbine of 9mm bore, he could not have reached the guard room, where his body was found, without leaving a trail of blood on the way. “It’s possible that Hardeep was chased, rendered helpless and then killed,” he said.
Trespass at farmhouse meant to set up brothers?
Developments in the Ponty Chadha shootout case may soon reveal an entirely new sequence of events. The conflicting statements of witnesses have left police wondering if there was a bigger conspiracy at play on the day of the killings. A source on Tuesday said the initial story about the shootout appears concocted.
The crime branch is likely to register two more cases of forgery and destruction of evidence against Sukhdev Singh Namdhari, Ponty’s henchman and sacked chief of Uttarakhand’s minorities commission, after gathered more evidence. Namdhari was found to have used forgeries for getting his passport and arms licence.
Police had initially termed the November 17 shootout between Ponty and his brother Hardeep a result of their feud over the possession of two farmhouses. However, the crime branch now has strong suspicions about Namdhari’s role as his account of the shootout does not agree with the findings of the investigation. Also, he has repeatedly lied to police since his arrest. “It seems the brothers were set up on the day of the shootout with the trespass drama at their farmhouses,” a cop said.
Questioning of Chadha’s employees and others has revealed that CCTV cameras were mysteriously removed two-three days before the shootout from the Chhatarpur farmhouse. “Why were such elaborate arrangements made just to evict Hardeep and his workers from the farmhouse, and why didn’t others get hurt when so many bullets were sprayed? We need answers to these questions,” a source said. “Considering that 70-80 men, all goons from Uttarakhand and Punjab, were present at the farmhouse at the time, we feel there is more to the shootout than just a property dispute.”
Namdhari’s call records for three days before the shootout show he spoke to several high-profile people. However, he has not been able to satisfy cops about the nature of these talks. Namdhari has not been able to explain why he told doctors at Fortis Hospital that “some people came from outside and shot Ponty”. “The fact that his son Surendra, two maternal uncles and a driver have suddenly gone underground has put him in the dock,” a cop said.