Mumbai: Three months after Justice Revati Mohite-Dere of Bombay high court began hearing a key set of petitions in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case and three weeks after she began dealing with the matter on a daily basis, she has been moved out and a new judge has been assigned the case.
According to the notice published on the Bombay high court’s website on February 24, Justice Mohite-Dere will henceforth take care of matters concerning anticipatory bail applications, while Justice N.W. Sambre will deal with all criminal revision applications in her place.
Only last week, Justice Mohite-Dere had commented on how the CBI appeared unprepared to conduct the prosecution in the Sohrabuddin and Kauser-bi abduction and murder case in which several policemen from Gujarat are being tried. A number of senior police officers have already been discharged by the trial court and it is a set of appeals against those discharge orders which the high court is currently hearing.
The CBI chose not to contest the discharge of BJP president Amit Shah and several senior police officers but is appealing the CBI special court’s decision to let two other policemen off the hook.
Mohite-Dere’s ‘routine’ transfer marks the latest in a series of developments in the politically sensitive case that have led either to delays or even a change in the trajectory of proceedings.
Mohite-Dere had pointed out that the CBI had failed to put all evidence on record including the prima facie evidence against those discharged to assess whether the same warranted that they be discharged from the case. “It is the primary duty of a prosecuting agency to place all evidence on record before the court. However, in this case, despite the court’s repeated queries, the CBI has chosen to argue only on the role of the two officials whose discharge it has challenged,” Mohite-Dere had said.
Saturday’s reshuffle in the high court meant a change of assignments for 26 of the 70 judges and the registrar’s office has called it a routine change. “Every few months new assignments are given to the judges. The notices are periodically displayed on the HC’s website. At any given point in time the judges are handling important cases and cases are handed over to the next judge on completion of proper hand- over procedure,” said an official from the Bombay high court registrar general’s office. However, assigning a case to a new court would mean starting the hearing in the petition afresh.
Until Friday, Mohite-Dere was hearing a batch of petitions challenging the discharge of some senior IPS officers in the alleged fake encounter case of Sohrabuddin Shaikh. Among them was a revision plea filed by Sohrabuddin’s brother Rubabuddin, challenging the discharge of IPS officers D.G. Vanzara, Dinesh M.N. and Rajkumar Pandian. Two other revision applications filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation against the discharge of former Gujarat IPS officer N.K. Amin and Rajasthan police constable Dalpat Singh Rathod were also being heard by her.
Three weeks ago, the court had begun day-to- day hearings in the matter. On several occasions she had expressed displeasure over the way the CBI was handling the matter. Since the trial in the alleged fake encounter case is running parallel, Mohite-Dere had been following all related developments very closely. With several crucial witnesses turning hostile one after the other, she had asked the CBI to explain what concrete steps were being taken to ensure the security of witnesses in the case.
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Senior advocate Mahesh Jethmalani, who is representing Vanzara, Amin, Pandian and Dinesh M.N., has been arguing on behalf of Pandian. He was expected to complete his arguments on Monday and then move on to arguments against the plea challenging Vanzara’s discharge from the case.
On February 9 this year, the court had begun hearings in the case on a daily basis. Since then, each time the court has sought documents like the charge sheet, witness statements, notices and warrants issued in relation with the case, the CBI has asked for time to arrange for them.
Justice Mohite-Dere in a short span of hearing the case also passed a landmark order in favour of the journalists who had appealed to her against the trial court’s gag order on reporting the trial. In the order, she had observed that the press is the “most powerful watchdog of society”.
Now for a new judge to preside over the court would mean going through all the facts of the case all over again. “But if the petitioners and the defendants both come to consensus and move the acting chief justice together and seek her retention, there is a possibility she could be retained. Again, this is at the chief justice’s discretion,” said senior advocate Mihir Desai, who was earlier Rubabuddin’s lawyer.
Advocate Gautam Tiwari, who is presently handling Rubabuddin’s petition and advocate Jethmalani were both not available for their comments.