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Crime and influence: The family at the centre of the Porsche crash in Pune | News from Mumbai

A rich, drunk teenager running over two people with his Porsche in the middle of the night would be a cliché in fiction. In real life, the events of May 19 in Pune that led to the deaths of two young tech workers – Ashwini Koshta and Aneesh Awadhiya – tell a much darker story of entitlement and institutional subversion.

The Porsche was found without a number plate in Pune on May 21. (PTI photo)

But where does this impunity come from? Perhaps it lies in Tolstoy's famous dictum: “All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

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The teenager is the sole heir to his family's fortune, first made in the scrap metal trade when the family migrated to Pune from Batala in Punjab in the 1960s, and then, more significantly, when they expanded into Pune's burgeoning real estate and hospitality business in the 1980s. According to her business associates, the family's business empire is estimated to be worth about 1,000 crore for hotels in Pune and Mahabaleshwar, land holdings and real estate. But this fortune was built on the back of an ugly family dispute between the teenager's grandfather on one side and his three brothers on the other. “Initially, they all lived as one strong extended family, but over the years, different business interests and disagreements over division of wealth and resources deepened the rift,” says Pune-based businessman Aniket Changedia, who has known the family for several years. But unlike other business families that split, the dispute over division of resources became so bitter that in 2009, the teenager's grandfather allegedly ordered an assassination attempt on Shiv Sena leader Ajay Bhosale, who was close to one of the brothers and refused to mediate on the grandfather's behalf. “The youth's immediate family members were involved in certain questionable land deals that affected the credibility of the entire group and were the final nail in the door,” says Changedia. The bitterness was so great that the two factions no longer speak to each other.

The family formally split the business, with the majority of the five-star hotels in their portfolio going to the three brothers, while the teenager's grandfather and father got the commercial and residential real estate business, which at the time was focused on 600 crore. In March 2012, the teenager's grandfather converted the private company into a public company. The official website states, “The group has developed 350 acres of land and provided homes to more than 15,000 families. It has also built a well-known hotel-cum-resort-cum-club in the hill town of Mahabaleshwar.” The official Facebook page shows the teenager's father being feted by former Maharashtra Governor Bhagatsingh Koshyari.

Cases against the family

However, the decision maker in the teenager's family remains the grandfather. It was he who instructed the team's driver to let the teenager drive the Porsche despite being drunk and it was also he who later tried to get the driver to say that he (the driver) was behind the wheel when the accident happened and not the teenager. Pune police said investigators are probing four cases against the grandfather. In one case, he is accused of hiring a Chhota Rajan member to kill Shiv Sena leader Ajay Bhosale and three others involve cheating and criminal intimidation. “We have now widened the scope of the investigation into the grandfather's conduct after the accident to include his previous cases,” said Pratap Mankar, senior police inspector of Pune crime branch. Though these are separate cases and need to be dealt with separately, it is clear that the police want to speed up investigations into the businessman's old cases.

As news of the crash became public, people who knew the family began to speak out. Sonali Tanpure, wife of NCP MP Prajakt Tanpure, took to social media to talk about how the teenager and his friend once bullied her son, who was her classmate, to the point that she had to take him out of school.

The subversions

On the day of the accident, the teenager went out with his friends to celebrate his 12th grade exams. Despite being underage, they were served alcohol at two establishments: Cosie, where they ordered several rounds of vodka, whisky and beer, and then again at a nightclub called Blak, where they drank more. In Maharashtra, the legal drinking age is 25, which is one of the highest in the country, along with Delhi and Punjab. The two establishments have since been sealed by the Customs Department and their owners arrested.

When the driver saw that the teenager was drunk and insisted on getting behind the wheel despite not having a driver's license as a minor, he called the father, who then consulted with the grandfather and ordered him (the driver) to let the teenager drive anyway.

From then on, tragedy seemed inevitable. After the accident, the teenager's father called NCP MP (Ajit Pawar) from Wadgaon Sheri, Sunil Tingre. The call records available to the police show that the father called Tingre more than thirty times between 2:30 am and 3 am. When Tingre did not respond, the father went to his house and later accompanied him to Yerawada police station, where the teenager was detained by the police. There, a burger and Coke were ordered for the boy; the two officers on duty, Inspector Rahul Jagdale and Assistant Inspector Vishwanath Todkari, failed to inform their superiors about the seriousness of the accident and applied relatively 'weak' sections of the IPC against the youth – Section 304A, which applies to culpable homicide. The minor's blood sample to check his blood alcohol level was taken at 11 a.m., several hours after the accident, which may have allowed time for the alcohol level to dilute. The two have since been suspended.

While the Yerwada police were conducting their initial investigation, the grandfather tried to force the driver to make a false confession that he was behind the wheel at the time of the accident. When he refused, he was detained and threatened with worse consequences. The grandfather has since been arrested for kidnapping.

Preliminary investigation revealed that the car in question, a top-of-the-range Porsche Taycan purchased in March this year, was allowed to ply on Pune roads for two months without registration. A temporary registration only allows the vehicle to be moved from the dealer's showroom to the owner's residence. However, in this case, the teenager's father had not paid the required road tax. The Pune RTO has since cancelled the car's temporary registration and banned its re-registration for the next 12 months, meaning the car will not be allowed to hit the roads next year.

But the worst institutional downfall occurred at Pune's largest public hospital, the Sassoon General, where the teenager was taken by police for a medical examination and blood draw to check his alcohol content. There, emergency doctor Dr. Shrihari Halnor took a blood sample from the boy but allegedly switched it with the blood sample from the teenager's mother, which came back negative, leading to the initial police finding that the teenager had not been driving under the influence of alcohol. As it later emerged, Dr. Halnor had offered to 2.5 lakh from the head of the hospital's forensic department, Dr. Ajay Taware. Halnor, Taware and a third Sassoon employee, who was offered a bribe of 50,000 shillings for his collusion have since been arrested and suspended from duty.

But why would Dr Ajay Taware offer such a bribe to his colleague and be involved in this illegality? Taware, the medical superintendent of the hospital, had been asked to resign by the Directorate of Medical Education and Research in April 2022 over alleged malpractice in kidney transplants. However, MP Sunil Tingre, who had initially worked for the teenager's father after graduating from engineering college, knew Dr Taware and intervened on his behalf. On December 26, 2023, Tingre wrote to his party colleague and Minister of Medical Education Hasan Mushrif, requesting that Dr Taware be reinstated. “Dr Ajay Taware, whom I know, is a professor and head of the department of forensic medicine. He has held the post of medical superintendent and has performed meritorious duties during the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, I request that appropriate steps be taken at your level to appoint him as the Medical Superintendent of Sassoon General Hospital,” he wrote in his letter. Mushrif forwarded this to Sassoon CMO Dr Kale with instructions to reinstate Dr Taware.

The police must now investigate whether MLA Tingre, an old acquaintance of the teenager's father, and also of Dr Taware, brought the two together to facilitate the incentives offered to Dr Halnor to exchange the teenager's blood sample.

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