The special CBI court which delivered the verdict said the prosecution failed to provide satisfactory evidence against the accused.
Mumbai: A special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court Friday acquitted all 22 accused in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh and Tulsiram Prajapati alleged fake encounters, saying the evidence put before the court was not satisfactory.
Delivering the verdict in the 13-year-old case, special CBI court judge S.J. Sharma said: “All 22 accused who were on trial in this court are acquitted.”
The judge added that the evidence was not satisfactory to prove the charge that there was a conspiracy to kill Sheikh, his associate Prajapati and Sheikh’s wife Kausar Bi and that they were murdered.
“Unfortunately, the evidence, even after three chargesheets, was not substantial enough to prove the allegations beyond doubt,” the judge said while delivering the last judgment of his career. He is scheduled to retire on December 31.
Judge Sharma, however, said the prosecution lawyer, B.P. Raju, had done his best.
“Witnesses turning hostile is not the fault of the prosecution. The prosecutor made all effort to bring witnesses and attempted to provide proofs to the court,” the court said.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah, who was the Gujarat home minister when the incidents took place, was one of the accused before being discharged by the court in December 2014 along with a few others.
The trial was marked by a number of twists and turns, with 92 of the 210 prosecution witnesses turning hostile. Two of them, Azam Khan and Mahendra Zala, Thursday put in a last-minute plea before the court to be re-examined.
No clear link, says judge
Judge Sharma said, “In case of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, the homicidal death is certain because there is evidence through the statements of the medical officer, the post-mortem report. However, when I have gone through the evidence, there is no satisfactory evidence to show that these accused have performed this crime.”
He added that the way in which the CBI seized the weapons was not sufficient to show that these were the same weapons used to kill Sheikh.
“The link as far as the concern of the accused with the alleged killing has not come up,” the judge said.
‘Enough to support defence theory’
The judge said Prajapati’s name as the third person abducted with Sheikh and Kausar Bi came up much later and was based on evidence of hearsay.
He said the defence’s theory that Prajapati escaped from police custody and was then killed in an encounter had evidence to substantiate it. He said there was a report of injuries on Ashish Pandya, the police sub-inspector who shot Prajapati, and other statements to back the theory of the defence.
“Keeping this in mind, the theory that Prajapati was abducted and taken from Ahmedabad to Rajasthan does not stand,” the judge said.
The judge also said the CBI could not establish that D.G. Vanzara, then DIG of the Gujarat Anti-Terrorism Squad, had asked Pandya to come back from leave.
Vanzara was among those accused, but was discharged in 2017 for lack of evidence.
“The prosecution has not proved that Vanzara spoke to Pandya, how and when the conversation took place. There is also no evidence to show what purpose Vanzara spoke to Pandya for. No such circumstance to show that this was part of a conspiracy to kill Prajapati,” the judge said.
He added, “Unfortunately, families lost their sons. I am very sorry about that. But unfortunately, the evidence put before me doesn’t show that these accused are guilty of the crime.”
According to the CBI, Sohrabuddin was a wanted criminal, extorting money from marble traders from Gujarat and Rajasthan. The agency said some traders had approached politicians and police officers in the two states in a conspiracy to kill him.
The Gujarat and Rajasthan police allegedly abducted Sheikh and his wife, Kausar Bi, along with Sheikh’s associate Prajapati when they were traveling in a bus from Hyderabad to Sangli in Maharashtra on the intervening night of 22 and 23 November 2005.
Sheikh was allegedly killed in a fake encounter on 26 November 2005, and a few days later, Kausar Bi too was killed and her body burnt on a riverbank in Gujarat’s Illol village.
A year later, on 28 December 2006, Prajapati was shown to have been arrested in Rajasthan, and was also allegedly killed in a fake encounter soon after in Gujarat’s Banaskantha.
The police claimed Sheikh was an operative of terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba.
The CBI, which took over the investigation of the case in 2010 from the Gujarat CID, named 38 accused, including Shah and former Rajasthan home minister Gulab Chand Kataria. Several senior IPS officers, including Vanzara, Rajkumar Pandian, Dinesh M.N. and Vipul Aggarwal, were also named.
Sixteen of the 38 were discharged while 22 accused, of which 21 were mostly low-rung police officers, went to trial.
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