New Delhi: Discharging three police officers accused in the alleged extrajudicial killing of Ishrat Jahan, Javed Shaikh alias Pranesh Pillai and two others in June 2004, a special CBI court Wednesday said “there is no question of any fake encounter” in the case.
Allowing the discharge application filed by IPS officer G.L. Singhal, retired director general of police Tarun A. Borat and State Reserve Police Force commando Anaju Chaudhari, Special Judge Vipul R. Raval said the police officers had acted “while discharging official duties”.
He noted that the Gujarat government had also refused to give sanction for their prosecution.
“There is nothing on record even prima facie to suggest that the victims were not terrorists, the I.B. inputs were not genuine. Therefore, the present application requires to be allowed,” the court asserted.
Dismissing allegations of the encounter being fake, Judge Raval observed: “Number of anti-national and terrorist activities were spread all over India, more particularly in Gujarat State. Being high rank police officers, it was their boundant duty to take necessary steps in order to maintain law and order. There is no question of any fake encounter on the part of any such police officer.”
The officers had been accused under sections 120B (criminal conspiracy) read with Sections 341 (wrongful restraint), 342 (wrongful confinement), 343 (wrongful confinement for 3 or more days), 365 (kidnapping or abducting to secretly and wrongfully confine someone) and 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code, along with provisions of the Indian Arms Act.
These were the last three police officers who were facing prosecution for charges of murder, criminal conspiracy, abduction and illegal detention of the 19-year old girl from Mumbra, Ishrat Jahan, and her companions Javed Shaikh alias Pranesh Pillai, Zeeshan Johar and Amjad Ali Rana. They were shot dead on 15 June 2004 on the outskirts of Ahmedabad in a police encounter.
Following the encounter, the Gujarat Police had claimed that Ishrat and the three others were Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives on a mission to kill Narendra Modi, who was the chief minister of the state at the time. However, a high court-appointed special investigation team concluded that the encounter was fake, after which the CBI registered a case against various police officials.
CBI had named seven police officers — P.P. Pandey, D.G. Vanzara, N.K. Amin, J.G. Parmar, besides Singhal, Barot and Chaudhary — as accused in its first charge sheet filed in 2013.
Pandey, who was the joint commissioner of police (crime), Ahmedabad City, at the time of the encounter, was discharged in 2018. In May 2019, the special CBI court discharged Vanzara and Amin, while Parmar died in September last year.
With this latest order, the trial comes to an end, unless the CBI files appeals.
Why prosecution sanction was refused
The CBI court had on 23 October last year directed the CBI to obtain the sanction from the authorities to prosecute the three officers, ruling that the offences allegedly committed by them were during discharge of their official duties.
“Therefore, to make teams to prevent terrorists, to have discussion, to stand at different places and to intercept four persons against whom the information was received were all official acts or duties performed by all the police officers,” it had observed, while directing that sanction under Section 197 needs to be obtained.
Under Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, government sanction is required to prosecute judges or public servants for any act done in discharge of their official duty.
However, the Gujarat government refused this sanction on 18 March, asserting that the officers “should be protected against malicious and vexatious prosecution in this case”, and that this “protection is made extendable to him in larger public interest”.
The government took note of the evidence against the officers, and then pointed out that it “is mainly based on the statements of witnesses who have been shown as accused in the FIR” and that the “investigating agency had resorted to procedures which are contrary to the standard procedures of investigation”.
Following this, the three officers approached the court demanding that the proceedings be dropped.
‘In discharge of their duties’
The police officers submitted in court that the proceedings against them should be dropped because the government had refused to give its sanction for their prosecution.
The CBI lawyer, meanwhile, had argued that only after the trial proceeds can the court decide whether the officers had actually acted in discharge of their official duty. He also contended that all three sanction orders were similar and so the sanction had been refused by the government “without application of mind”.
The court, however, did not accept this submission, noting that neither the CBI nor Ishrat Jahan’s mother had challenged its October 2020 order demanding grant of sanction for prosecution.
“In all these circumstances, all the high rank police officials of Gujarat State were answerable to the public at large and government also. As a matter of fact, as per the provisions of law, all the police officers are considered to be on duty for all 24 hours,” it observed.
“Therefore, it is clear that the act which is alleged to have been done by the accused was in discharge of their duties or purported to be in discharge of their duties.”
The court also took note of the submissions made by the Ministry of Home Affairs, which had told the court that the Investigation Bureau had “specific inputs about the movement of the aforesaid 4 persons, which was communicated to Gujarat Police”.
The Centre had claimed that there were inputs “clearly showing that the LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba), through the aforesaid 4 persons, had planned a massive terrorist act in Gujarat”, and that Jahan was an LeT operative.
(Edited by Sanghamitra Mazumdar)
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