Around 4 pm on Wednesday, a lorry carrying liquor from Thodupuzha to Cheruthoni in Idukki was seen tumbling into a gorge near Guruthikkalam check post. But for over an hour after the lorry fell, the driver, identified as 47-year-old Ismail, was trapped inside the vehicle and unable to move, until the locals and some relatives extricated his. Where were the police? Relatives of the deceased driver have now alleged that instead of actively searching for the body, the police were protecting the liquor bottles.
The vehicle driven by Ismail was carrying over 500 bottles of beer from a government depot in Thodupuzha to a private bar in Cheruthoni, Idukki. The accident was witnessed by the police officers of the Murickassery station, who immediately alerted the Kulamavu police, under whose jurisdiction the accident had occurred.
Speaking to TNM, Shamsuddin, the driver’s relative, said, "When we reached the location an hour after the accident, there were no police officers near the lorry and no search happening. We told them that we did not want any liquor bottles, but just wanted to retrieve the body. They let us climb down the gorge and we found his body" Shamsuddin, the driver's cousin told TNM.
However, Shamsuddin alleges that initially, officers of the Kulamavu police station did not let the locals check the vehicle as they were wary of the beer bottles being stolen.
"A group of people who alerted me about the accident had also reached the spot to search for the body. And they said they were not allowed by the police," he added.
When TNM spoke to Kulamavu Sub-Inspector CS Nasser, he confirmed that the police had indeed tried to stop the locals from taking the beer bottles, but brushed aside the allegations by the relatives that they were protecting the liquor bottles.
"We reached the accident site and started removing the bottles from the overturned lorry to search for the driver when I got a call from an unknown person. He claimed that he was the driver's relative and that the man was safe and had escaped from the lorry. When I heard this, I asked the officers to go to the check post to inquire if the driver had escaped. From accident spot, we found out that the information we received was wrong and we returned to the search operations," he said.
However, despite removing some of the bottles and searching inside the truck, the police could not find any body, alleges the SI.
"It was hard as the bottles were bursting open and the body was perhaps buried beneath the cartons. We had to wear hand gloves to remove the bottles," he added. The Kulamavu police were even joined by the Murickassery police and fire force personnel. A total of 15 to 20 officers were searching for the body, but could not retrieve it, the SI said.
However, Shamsuddin states that within 10 minutes of starting the search operation, locals found the body buried beneath the heap of bottles.
"With an accident of this scale, it is not possible for any person to get up and walk back to safety. We were sure he was inside the truck. All we needed was 10 minutes to find the body and to take it out. How did the police not find it then?" he asked.
Once retrieved, Ismail was taken to a private hospital a few kilometres away, where he was declared dead. His post-mortem has been completed and the body has been handed over to his family.
According to the post-mortem report, Ismail's vertebra had broken and pierced his heart, causing his death.
An inquest has been held in the accident and a case has been registered under the Motor Vehicles Act.