New Delhi: Former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt, who had famously filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court alleging Narendra Modi’s complicity as chief minister of Gujarat in the 2002 anti-Muslim riots, has been sentenced to life imprisonment by a Jamnagar sessions court for a 1990 custodial torture and death case.
On Thursday, the court found Bhatt, then additional superintendent of the Jamnagar police, guilty in the case relating to the death of Prabhudas Vaishnani due to alleged custodial torture. Another policeman, Pravinsinh Zala, was also found guilty.
Special public prosecutors Tushar Gokani and Madhu Mehta told the Indian Express that the two were sentenced by judge D.M. Vyas under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (punishment for murder).
As many as 150 people had been detained for rioting while Bharatiya Janata Party veteran L.K. Advani led his rath yatra through Jamjodhpur town in November of 1990, according to the Express report. Vaishnani, who was among those detained, was released on bail after nine days and allegedly died ten days after his release, while undergoing treatment in a hospital. His brother, Amrutlal, had then filed a complaint alleging custodial torture against Bhatt and eight other policemen.
LiveLaw reported that while cognisance of the case had been taken by a magistrate in 1995, the trial had been stayed by the Gujarat high court till 2011, when the stay was vacated.
A week ago, on Wednesday, the Supreme Court had refused to entertain Bhatt’s plea seeking to examine 11 additional witnesses in the case. The former policeman had moved the apex court claiming that although nearly 300 witnesses had been listed by prosecution in the case, only 32 were actually examined. Many crucial witnesses, including three policemen who were part of the team which investigated the offence, were left out, he had claimed.
The Gujarat government had termed the move by Bhatt a “tactic to delay the trial”.
Bhatt had been suspended in 2011 for allegedly remaining absent from duty without permission and misusing official vehicles, PTI had reported. He was removed from service in August 2015.
In the same year, the Supreme Court dismissed his plea for constituting a special investigation team for cases filed against him by the Gujarat government.
He has been behind bars since September 2018 in another matter of ancient vintage — a 1996 drug planting case. Speaking to The Wire in October 2018, Bhatt’s wife Shweta had alleged that Gujarat law enforcement agencies had been “colluding to harass” her and her husband.
On December 8, a court in Gujarat’s Banaskantha district refused to grant him bail. Bhatt was superintendent of police in Banaskantha district in 1996.
In 2011, Bhatt had filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court, claiming to have attended a meeting on the eve of the 2002 Gujarat riots, during which he alleged that Modi, who was then chief minister and is now prime minister Narendra Modi, asked senior IPS officers to to let Hindus “vent out their anger against Muslims”.
In the affidavit, he also alleged that it was discussed in the meeting that the bodies of the Hindu pilgrims who had died in the Sabarmati Express in Godhra would be brought to Ahmedabad before being cremated. Senior police officials had, according to Bhatt, then advised against this as they feared it would incite religious violence.
Bhatt, who was deputy commissioner of police and posted at the State Intelligence Bureau in 2002, had also claimed before the Nanavati Commission (constituted to investigate the riots) that he had personally informed Modi about the imminent threat to Congress leader Ehsan Jafri, who was later killed by a mob.
The Nanavati Commission final report was submitted to the Gujarat government in October 2018 but has yet to be made public.