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Sohrabuddin ‘fake encounter’ case sees last-minute twist as it readies for judgment day

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A CBI court is expected to deliver judgment in the alleged fake encounter case Friday. ThePrint takes a look at the case as it unfolded over 13 years.

Mumbai: One complainant changed his statement. Another never turned up in court despite multiple summons. Ninety-two witnesses, many of them key to the case, turned hostile. Sixteen of the 38 initially accused discharged. Those who stood trial, mostly junior officers, said they have been falsely implicated due to political motives. And, in a last-minute twist Thursday, two witnesses requested to be re-examined claiming they were under pressure earlier.

The case of Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his associate Tulsiram Prajapati’s alleged fake encounters, in which Amit Shah, now Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) national president, was one of the accused, has been a tale of twists and turns.

On Thursday, the court heard pleas from two prosecution witnesses — Azam Khan and Mahendra Zala — who wanted to be re-examined. Khan, an associate of Sohrabuddin and Tulsiram, said he was under pressure and was scared to name IPS officers and politicians during his deposition before the trial court on 3 November.

Zala, who owns a petrol pump in Gujarat, said during his deposition that the prosecution didn’t produce his earlier statement recorded before a magistrate court, based on which the court could have summoned two accused who are now discharged.

The trial in the 2005 case, being held in a special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Mumbai, is now at its end with the court expected to deliver the judgment Friday. ThePrint takes a look at how the case unfolded over the last 13 years.

The case

According to the CBI, Sohrabuddin was a wanted criminal, extorting money from marble traders from Gujarat and Rajasthan. The agency said some traders approached politicians and police officers in Rajasthan and Gujarat in a criminal conspiracy to kill Sheikh.

The Gujarat and Rajasthan police allegedly abducted Sheikh and his wife, Kausar Bi, along with Sohrabuddin’s associate Prajapati when they were traveling in a bus from Hyderabad to Sangli in Maharashtra.

Sheikh was allegedly killed in a fake encounter on 26 November 2005, and a few days later, Kausar Bi too was killed in the same manner and her body burnt on a riverbank in Gujarat’s Illol village. Prajapati was shown to have been arrested in Rajasthan, and was allegedly also killed in a fake encounter in 2006.

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 Gujarat CID, named 38 accused, including then Gujarat minister of state for home Amit Shah and former Rajasthan home minister Gulab Chand Kataria. Several senior IPS officers, including D.G. Vanzara, Rajkumar Pandian, Dinesh M.N. and Vipul Aggarwal, were also named.

The investigating agency cited certain call records of conversations between Shah and some IPS officers accused in the case as evidence against the BJP chief.

Shah was, however, discharged from the case in December 2014, along with a few others by special CBI judge M.B. Gosavi, the third judge in the case.

Also read: Sohrabuddin Sheikh case witness wants verdict stayed, says many not allowed to depose

The trial

The first judge, J.T. Utpat, who heard the case from March to June 2012 was transferred days after he rapped Shah for not appearing before the court. He was succeeded by judge B.H. Loya, who is said to have died of a cardiac arrest in December 2014. In 2017, Loya’s family spoke to The Caravan magazine alleging that the judge was under immense pressure as they raised suspicions about the circumstances around his death.

Gosavi heard the case till June 2017, after which judge S.J. Sharma took over and discharged three others, including Vanzara and Dinesh M.N.

Last month, appearing as one of the last prosecution witnesses, Sandeep Tamgadge, one of the principal investigating officers in the Prajapati fake encounter case, reiterated his allegation that Shah and IPS officers Vanzara, Pandian and Dinesh M.N. were the principal conspirators.

Deposing two days before him, Amitabh Thakur, a chief investigating officer probing Sheikh’s alleged fake encounter, told the court that Shah, Vanzara, Pandian, Dinesh M.N. and police officer Abhay Chudasama were the political and monetary beneficiaries of the crime. But he had no specific evidence, he said.

Hostile witnesses

The CBI mentioned over 700 witnesses in its chargesheets. In the trial, which began in November 2017, only 210 prosecution witnesses were examined, of which 92 were declared hostile. Many of these were eye-witnesses whose testimonies held key to the prosecution’s theory.

For instance, the statements of co-passengers on the Hyderabad-Sangli luxury bus, from where Sohrabuddin, Kausar Bi and Prajapati were abducted, were crucial for the CBI’s case. However, CBI witnesses Sharad Apte and his family members who supposedly travelled on the same bus said they did not notice any such incident. The prosecution declared them hostile.

However, prosecution witness Arvind Dadaji More, who was in 2010 a police inspector with the CBI Economic Offences Wing at Mumbai and is currently a deputy SP at CBI Bank Security and Frauds, told the court that he had recorded the statements of Apte and his family members.

“The statement of PW-2 Shri. Sharad Apte and PW. 3 Shri Amit Apte and PW. 73 Smt. Manjusha Apte and Anjali Apte (now dead) were recorded initially by CID Crime Gandhinagar in Gujarati language. I got those statements translated into Marathi in presence of PW. 63 Shri. Naginbhai Rathod and Shri. Laxminarayan Agrawal and a panchnama in that context was prepared by me on 3/3/2010 at officers rest house Sangli,” More told the court.

As per the CBI chargesheet, Misbah Hyder, driver of the luxury bus, and Gaziuddin Chabukswar, the cleaner on duty, had earlier recorded statements about how an SUV had stopped the bus at about 1.30am and two-three people boarded it, saying they were on duty.

Both were declared hostile.

Another key witness who turned hostile was Saleema Begum, sister of Nayeemuddin who was allegedly an associate of Sohrabuddin. Begum had initially told the CBI that both Sheikh and Kausar Bi had visited her place sometime in 2005. Begum was a significant witness for the CBI to establish that Sohrabuddin was in Hyderabad.

But during examination by special public prosecutor B.P. Raju, Begum said, “I do not know who were friends of my brother Nayeemuddin either at Hyderabad or outside. Except relatives no friends of Nayeemuddin were visiting and staying at his house.”

Further, during cross-examination, she said, “It is not true that I told CBI officer that Sohrabuddin and Kausarbi visited the house of my brother at Hyderabad in November 2005. It is not true that I told CBI officer that I was knowing Sohrabuddin and Kausarbi.”

Also read: On last day of Sohrabuddin case trial, CBI says couldn’t establish chain of events

Multiple summons, changed statement

Sohrabuddin’s brother, Rubabuddin Sheikh, wrote to the Chief Justice of India in 2007 asking for an inquiry into his brother’s death, following which the Supreme Court asked the state police to investigate.

In case of Prajapati’s alleged fake encounter, his mother Narmadabai had filed a petition in the Supreme Court asking for an inquiry. She had earlier given a statement to the CBI saying her son spoke to her about the threat to his life as he had seen the alleged abduction of Sohrabuddin and Kausar Bi.

During the hearing, the special CBI court sent multiple summons to both Rubabuddin and Narmadabai to appear before the court and record their statements.

Rubabuddin finally did appear last month, but said things contradicting his earlier statements, potentially impacting CBI’s case. He told the court that Prajapati had told him that his brother was killed in front of Prajapati in 2005. As per his earlier statement, Prajapati had told Rubabuddin that while Sohrabuddin and his wife were taken away to Ahmedabad, he was taken away to Rajasthan.

Narmadabai did not appear before the court despite several summons and warrants. The prosecution ultimately told the court that it was unable to execute a non-bailable warrant against her to bring her as a prosecution witness.

On 5 December, the case was reserved for judgment.

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