Thursday 20 June 2024

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Who set Vilas Mehtar on Fire?


Vilas Mehtar’s murder by fire had all the hallmarks of a cold-blooded professional contract killing. However, despite many leads, the police are still “clueless”

According to the doctors, Vilas Mehtar died because he sustained 80 per cent burns on his body


On Wednesday, 40-year-old Vilas Mehtar was driving from Salvador do Mundo along the Torda road at around 1.30pm when his car was stopped by two masked men on a motorcycle. As Mr Mehtar wound down the glass of his window to inquire what the matter was, they poured an inflammable liquid on him, set him on fire, and drove off.

Mr Mehtar got out of the car and screamed for help. Some people who were nearby extinguished the fire and called a 108 ambulance, which took him to the Goa Medical College (GMC) hospital. According to the doctors, he sustained 80 per cent burns on his body.

On Thursday morning, Mr Mehtar succumbed to his injuries. The police had not even recorded his statement. They said he was not in a state to speak owing to severe burn injuries. His murder had all the hallmarks of a professional ‘Supari’ or contract killing.

There is an apocryphal story that the term 'supari' comes from Raja Bimb, the last indigenous king of Mumbai. His 14th century capital was on Mahim island, when the metropolis of Mumbai was just a group of seven swampy islands.

According to Hussain Zaidi, author of the book Dongri to Dubai, about Mumbai’s underworld, whenever Raja Bimb had to assign a particularly difficult task, he would call his best warriors to the Mahim fort for a sumptuous feast. Afterwards, a plate containing a betel leaf (paan) and areca nut (supari) would be placed before the gathering. The man who picked up the leaf and nut was entrusted with the task.

In the underworld, the client who offers the ‘supari’ (a large sum of money), mostly relies on a middleman who arranges for the actual hitmen. A photograph of the target is given, along with the target's home and work place, as well as where and when to find him. The client also helps the hitmen to observe the target’s movements for a few days, so that they can identify the best place and time to carry out the murder.

It is well known that Mr Mehtar was in a longstanding dispute with one Altaf Yargatti of Universal Builders. In a television interview, Salvador do Mundo Sarpanch Sandeep Salgaonkar said that Mr Mehtar had made a complaint about illegal construction on 6 November 2019. The panchayat had issued a show cause notice and then conducted a site inspection. A demolition order was issued on 8 February 2020. However, said Mr Salgaonkar, the demolition order was stayed by the Director of Panchayats.

On 24 September 2020, he put in a Right to Information (RTI) application. Mr Salgaonkar said that it pertained to the illegal covering of a terrace. Mr Mehtar came with three other people to the panchayat office on Wednesday to collect the reply. He met the Sarpanch to complain that a plan of the housing project had not been given. The panchayat secretary said that only the Town & Country Planning Department could issue plans. Mr Mehtar and his associates left the panchayat sometime between 12.30pm and 1.00pm. Half an hour later, he met a fiery end.

This was no crime of passion. It had all the hallmarks of a cold-blooded professional contract killing. The media has reported that despite the many leads available in the case, the police are still “clueless”. The Porvorim unit of the BJP has alleged that the builder Mr Yarigetty is actually just a welder, and hinted that he is a frontman for some anonymous benami owner.

Has the underworld infiltrated into Goa’s real estate industry? Are they hiring contract killers to take care of those who oppose their illegalities? The manner of this murder suggests that questions like these are not without foundation.

The recent performance of the Goa Police leaves much to be desired. In the sensational murder of Margao jeweller Swapnil Walke, South Goa police caught two of the accused within 24 hours of the crime, thanks to the efforts of 11 teams, each headed by an inspector, and all from South Goa.

Local media reported that unnamed police sources had indicated that the culprits were not robbers. They had planned to kill Swapnil six months earlier, but waited for the lifting of the Covid-19 lockdown to travel to Bihar and buy a country-made pistol. Then the case was handed over to the Crime Branch which, in a 180-degree turnaround, said it was an “armed robbery gone wrong”. Such ‘U’ turns do not inspire much confidence.

In investigations, speed is not necessarily a virtue. Being meticulous, methodical and thorough is. Goa cannot and must not became a playground for real estate mafias and their contract killers. It is up to the police and the government to bring Vilas Mehtar’s killers to justice.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

Until and unless police force is made autonomous and released from the ugly clutches of politicians such ineptitude and unprofessional attitude and working of police will continue.

P Kamat |

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Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.


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