CBI Court Discharges Former Gujarat DGP P.P. Pandey in Ishrat Jahan Case

Twice before, the Gujarat high court has rejected his petitions to have the FIR against him quashed.

P.P. Pandey. Credit: PTI

P.P. Pandey. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: A special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Ahmedabad today discharged former Gujarat DGP P.P. Pandey in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case. Pandey, one of seven policemen and four IB officers accused in the case, is the first to be discharged.

The court has said that it will upload its full order on the discharge by this evening.

Pandey had been named in the original CBI chargesheet in the case, filed on July 3, 2013. Twice before, the Gujarat high court has rejected his petitions to have the FIR against him quashed.

In his petition to the CBI court, Pandey had said that the case is based on “circumstantial evidence” and the “chain of events have not been established prima facie and there is no material on record to show what could be the motive of the Applicant/accused to be a part of the so-called conspiracy”. He had also claimed the CBI has “concocted the evidence by fabricating the statements of witnesses to somehow implicate the Applicant/accused” for “political reasons” and that statements on his involvement are based “merely on suspicion”.

His discharge petition had been opposed by both the CBI and Shamima Kauser, Ishrat Jahan’s mother. The CBI had said, “As explained in the chargesheet, it was disclosed during the investigation that deceased persons were in prior illegal custody and they were killed in a fake encounter. Sh.P.P. Pandey (applicant accused) was one of the conspirators in the alleged offence. …Investigation revealed his active involvement in the conspiracy.”

Kauser had argued that Pandey was misconstruing the facts of the CBI’s case in his petition and the case against him had been clearly laid out in the chargesheet. “The chargesheet dated 3.7.2013 discloses material that shows the clear involvement of Accused No.2 in the criminal conspiracy that culminated in the fake encounter killings of the daughter of the present Respondent,” her response to the court said.

Speaking to The Wire after the court’s decision on Wednesday, Kauser’s lawyer Vrinda Grover said, “This discharge of P.P. Pandey is a signal that the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter and murder case is going the Sohrabuddin case route, where first all powerful accused were discharged and then witnesses turned hostile. Will this go the same route now? The pattern is the same.”

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In August 2013, Pandey was arrested in connection with the case, and remained in jail for 16 months before getting out on bail. Despite being chargesheeted, the Gujarat government in 2016 made Pandey head of the state’s police force and granted him an extension in January 2017 as DGP. He was forced to quit in April when a petition was moved before the Supreme Court by retired police officer Julio Ribeiro challenging his appointment and extension on the grounds that he had been charged with committing a serious offence.

Two of the four IB officers accused in the fake encounter case – Rajeev Wankhede and Tushar Mittal – have challenged the special CBI court order which took cognisance of a supplementary chargesheet and issued summons for their appearance. According to them, the CBI does not have the Centre’s permission to prosecute them. The court is likely to rule on their petition in a week.

Ishrat Jahan, a teenaged woman from Mumbra, was killed in June 2004 by the Gujarat police in an ‘encounter’ along with three other men. A magisterial enquiry, SIT probe and CBI investigation subsequently all concluded that this was a fake encounter and that the police claim of having fired on her in ‘self-defence’ was a lie. In July 2013, almost a decade after the fake encounter, a chargesheet was filed against seven Gujarat police officials including Pandey and (in a supplementary chargesheet in February 2014) four IB officials for the unlawful killings, abduction, criminal conspiracy etc.

In another high-profile encounter in Gujarat, the Sohrabuddin Shaikh fake encounter case, 15 accused have been discharged so far. The Bombay high court has also reprimanded authorities for the number of witnesses who have turned hostile. Those discharged include BJP president Amit Shah and and former DIG of the Gujarat anti-terrorism squad, D.G. Vanzara. The case has recently come under the scanner after the family of Judge B.H. Loya, who was hearing the case, raised questions around his death.

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