, by SYYED MANSOOR AGHA
Gujarat High Court entrusted to CBI further investigation in the sensational cold blooded murder case of Ishrat Jahan and three others in Ahmedabad in June 2004. The order came on Dec 1, 2011, 10 days after a bench, comprising Justices Jayant Patel and KumariAbhilasha accepted unanimous report of three-member Special Investigating Team (SIT) probing authenticity of “encounter” story of Ahmedabad Detection of Crime Branch (DCB). SIT conclusively refuted the police story of an “encounter”. As reported earlier (Radiance 11-17Dec), a magisterial enquiry had also reached the same conclusion in 2009.
The High Court during the last hearing (Nov 19) had ordered to register a case of murder under section 320 against erring police officials and had reserved the order who will investigate the case further to ascertain degree of involvement of various police officials and motive of the crime. By handing over the case to CBI, the court has effectively ended the role of state police in the probe.
The order is being seen as huge embarrassment to the State BJP government headed by RSS poster boy Narendra Modi. The state government, the party and the police had justified the killings and alleged the four were LeT/HuJI activists and were on a mission to kill Modi. The Court asked CBI to investigate this aspect also and find out if any victim had any link with the terror groups. The state government pleaded that the case be handed over to local Police; however the bench dismissed the request showing explicit displeasure on the biased shown by the state apparatus.
PTI reported: The court observed, “Keeping in view the paramount consideration of instilling confidence in the investigation and for maintaining credibility of investigation with the aim to book the real offenders, it appears to us that it would not be a case to be assigned to the state agency.”
While handing over the case to CBI, the court had listed 12 reasons for its preferring CBI to the state police. The court noted that it could not trust the state police to do a credible investigation.
The order also pointed at the allegation made by former SIT chief Karnal Singh that forces from within the state were trying to hamper the probe in the case. It observed that despite its direction, certain police officers, including IPS officer G L Singhal who had played a major role in the encounter, was not transferred. “The aforesaid aspect of major role played by the said officer has also transpired in the 8th report of SIT (which concluded that encounter was fake),” the court said. The court observed the investigation report of state police officer ParixitaGurjar was found to be false.
The court ruled out assigning the investigations to SIT, citing difference of opinion among its members and other restraints. Mr. RR Vermatold the court that practical difficulties like lack of infrastructure for custodial interrogation might hinder the SIT’s work. He complained that central agencies had declined to help. The court also did not give its mandate to NIA, citing the issues concerning its jurisdiction and competence, and limited scope for cases that it can take up.
The court directed the state government to make SIT member SatishVerma available for CBI so that he could assist them with the investigation.
WHAT CBI WILL DO
The court directed the SIT to hand over all material related to the case to the CBI within two weeks. The present SIT chief R RVerma should be the complainant in the new FIR to be filed in CBI court.
The division bench directed that the CBI should take the officers on probation to fill up the vacancies and submit the report at the earliest and an officer of the DIG rank would head the investigations.
Role of at least 21 police personal, named in the magisterial report will come under the scanner, including four senior IPS officers of state police. Further, all top and high officials up to the rank of the then DGP may fall within the ambit of investigation in connection with the registration of another/fresh FIR. Those accused in the case include then JCP (crime branch) P PPande, suspended DIG D G Vanzara, then ACP G L Singhal and ACP N K Amin – all IPS officers. Vanzara and Amin are also accused in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case and the murder of Sheikh’s wife Kausar Bi. They are at present behind bars.
The CBI will also probe the original FIR, filed by state police on the day of murders in which the DCB Ahmedabad had justified the killings of Ishrat and three others, the court ruled.
The court said, “The probe agency (CBI) would need to find out who played the key role in the encounter, what was the motive and what was the actual time of the death of the four people.”
The judges asked IPS officer SatishVerma to help in the investigation. During a hearing last month, the state government had agreed to a CBI probe, but had objected to Verma having any role in the investigation, saying the cop was involved in another suspicious encounter. The brother of a man who died in police custody in Porbandar in 1996 when Verma was the superintendent there, has approached the high court alleging the police took no action against the cop despite specific orders by the high court in 1998.
Javed Sheikh alias PraneshPillai along with two other persons were killed by DCB along with 19-year old B.A. Student of Khalsa College Bomby. The police claimed the two were Pakistani nationals and identified them as Amjad Ali Rana and ZeeshanJohar.
After the verdict, SIT chief R RVerma said, “The Honourable High Court of Gujarat had tasked the SIT to find out whether the “encounter” was genuine or not. The SIT has done its work with full responsibility and come out with the conclusion that has been pronounced by the court. The court has directed further investigation to be done by the CBI and that shall be honoured.” He further said, “The court has also directed the chairman of SIT to file an FIR with CBI and that shall be the next responsibility we are going to discharge.” The SIT team was constituted by the High Court. In the final stage the team was headed by R RVerma, while IPS officers Mohan Jha and SatishVerma of Gujarat cadre were other two members. A 1978 batch IPS officer of Bihar Cadre, R RVerma was fourth officer to head the SIT. He was posted as Additional Director General of Police, CISF in Ministry of Home Affairs since July 1, 2011.
SIT probe was supervised directly by the Gujarat High Court and was constituted after hearing the plea by Ishrat’s mother Shamima Kausar and Gopinath Pillai, father of victim Javed Sheikh alias Pranesh Pillai to hand over the case to CBI as State Police was not probing the case professionally and trying to hide the fact to save the killers in police uniform. The Modi government had opposed CBI probe and as a result SIT was created in Sep 2010. The court has made it clear that it will not monitor the probe further.
Karnail Singh, a JCP (Crime Branch) of Delhi Police, was made chairman of SIT ignoring reservations by the state against the involving officers from outside the state. Ironically, Karnail Singh’s posting as head also did not infuse confidence of a large section because of his role in Batla House dubious encounter case.
Karnail Singh in his preliminary report mentioned about the forces acting within the state, who are trying to hamper impartial investigation. The report cited that in spite of court direction and the requisition made by the SIT certain police officers including P PPandey, GS Singhal and Tarun Barot were not transferred by the Modi Government.
When certain record of FSL was seized by Satish Verma during the course of investigation, a complaint was filed against him without it being brought to the notice of the court. The court had to call for explanation of the Secretary of the State Home Department before concluding on the aspects whether action should be initiated for contempt of court or not.
At one stage the court had recorded that the progress was not satisfactory on account of the full time non-availability of its chairman Karnail Singh and finally he was permitted to be relieved.
Dr. Satyapal Singh, a senior IPS officer of Maharashtra, was made the next chairman. After a brief stint he also opted out expressing his difficulties about the language and interrogation of PP Pandey, who is his batch-mate, and had also noted the differences of opinion between two SIT members and, therefore, prayed that he be relieved. Dr. Singh was ultimately relieved and RR Verma finally finished the job within five months.
“We could not have asked for a better judgment,”Ishrat’s mother ShamimaKausar’s lawyer Vrinda Grover said.