New Delhi: Just a week after the Supreme Court refused to entertain sacked IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt’s plea to examine additional witnesses in a 30-year-old custodial death case in which he was facing trial, a local sessions court in Jamnagar, Gujarat, awarded him and head constable Pravinsinh Zala life imprisonment Thursday.
Bhatt, a 1988-batch IPS officer of the Gujarat cadre, had approached the Supreme Court challenging the Gujarat High Court order that had rejected his request to examine 11 additional witnesses. However, the top court had directed that the trial be wrapped up before 20 June.
Bhatt was posted as additional superintendent of police in Jamnagar during the communal riots in 1990, and had detained 133 people. As per the prosecution’s case, one of the detainees, Prabhu Vaishnani, died immediately upon release. Vaishnani’s brother Amrut had filed a complaint against Bhatt and other police personnel, with the basic plea being that of custodial torture meted out to the detainees.
Bhatt is a well-known critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and had filed an affidavit against the then-Gujarat CM in the Supreme Court in connection with the 2002 Godhra train-burning incident and the violence that followed. Bhatt had also accused the SC-appointed SIT to probe the Gujarat riots for “shielding Mr Modi and top-ranking police officials of Gujarat”.
He was suspended in 2011 on charges of remaining absent from duty without permission and misuse of official vehicles, and was sacked from the IPS in August 2015.
Several applications and petitions were filed in the case over the last 30 years, travelling from the sessions court to the Gujarat High Court and the Supreme Court. In April, the Gujarat High Court had ordered that the proceedings in the case be conducted on a day-to-day basis by the trial court.
One such application was filed by Bhatt before the high court to summon additional witnesses during the trial. This had been allowed by the high court in part, giving rise to two petitions — one by Amrut Vaishnani and another by Bhatt.
Vaishnani had submitted that the trial was being dragged on for the last few years and that it was being delayed intentionally.
While the Supreme Court refused to interfere with the high court order, it was of the view that the high court should not have allowed the demand for additional witnesses at all to drag the proceedings any further.
It had also taken note of several orders where the high court had pulled up the accused officers for filing such applications, and had opined that the purpose behind these was to delay the trial.
One such order was passed in November 2011, 21 years after the incident, when the case was at the charges-framing stage. The high court had then observed: “It is required to be noted that the allegation against the accused persons who are police officers are with respect to violation of human rights also. The original complainant being the victim and brother of the deceased, who has died, has a legitimate expectation of getting justice at the earliest and to see to it that accused persons who are found to be guilty are punished at the earliest.”
Taking note of several such orders, the Supreme Court had, on 24 May, directed the trial court to conclude the trial by 20 June.
“No dilatory tactics be permitted to be adopted by any party in any manner whatsoever,” it had warned.
Bhatt had then moved the Supreme Court, challenging the same Gujarat High Court order which had been challenged by Vaishnani. The apex court, however, refused to entertain this petition, in view of its 24 May order.
One more pending case
Another case against Bhatt was that he had allegedly falsely implicated a Rajasthan-based lawyer, Surmersingh Rajpurohit, on charges of possessing around a kilogram of drugs under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act at Palanpur in 1996, when he was the superintendent of police in Banaskantha.
But an investigation by the Rajasthan Police stated that Rajpurohit was allegedly “falsely implicated”, and that he was reportedly abducted by the Banaskantha Police from his residence in Pali.