Mumbai: A special CBI court on Friday (December 21) acquitted all the 22 people accused in the alleged fake encounters of Sohrabuddin Shaikh, his wife Kauser Bi and his aide Tulsiram Prajapati in 2005 and 2006.
“Jo purava diya gaya hai woh samadhan karak nahi hai (The evidence that has been provided was not satisfactory),” special judge S.J. Sharma said while pronouncing his judgement, which ran over 500 pages.
“CBI prosecution tried its best to prove the case, but unfortunately the evidence, even after three chargesheets were not substantial enough to prove the allegations beyond doubt… Despite three investigations, the evidence is lacking.”
“Tulsiram Prajapati’s abduction story could not be proved. The CBI in its third chargesheet had claimed that he was the third person travelling with Shaikh and Kausar Bi on the bus from Hyderabad to Sangli. However, the material evidence and witnesses in the court have established that he was not on the bus. He was arrested from Bhilwara directly on November 26, 2005,” the judge said.
According to the prosecution, Prajapati was picked up from the same bus as Shaikh and Kausar Bi. However, the court today said that the evidence was not substantial to prove that he was first brought to Valsad (in Gujarat) and then was taken to Bhilwara (in Rajasthan), from where he was finally shown as arrested on November 26, 2005.
The court further stated that there was no material evidence to show that he was illegally detained in the interim for three days. “In fact, roznamcha (police station diary) of the police station, is given more preference since it is documentary evidence, this shows arrest on November 29, 2005,” the court said. The court further referred to the evidence of witnesses examined to prove Prajapati’s abduction – like the escort cops and the tenants who lived next to him – said that he was at home at the time he was arrested. “It could not be proved that he was a witness to the abduction,” the court observed.
Crucially, the court further added that it could not be proved that Prajapati was the third person traveling with Shaikh and his wife when they were abducted from their Sangli- bound bus on November 22, 2005. The only evidence was of his fellow inmates and they too were “hearsay witnesses”, the court added.
The court said that the evidence provided by the prosecution on the aspect of Prajapati’s encounter, the attack on the police officer, ballistic reports, evidence of GRP jawan and guards, the police theory has been proven incorrect.
“Keeping this in mind, the theory that Prajapati was abducted and taken from Ahmedabad to Rajasthan does not stand,” the judge said.
The court also expressed sorrow at its inability to convict anyone and said, “I feel extremely sorry for the family of Sohrabuddin Shaikh, and Tulsiram Prajapati, especially his mother Narmadabai. But the evidence before me could not establish the roles of any person accused in the case…[there is] no material evidence to prove any charges against the accused.”
The court did not mention Kauser Bi at all – except the one mention above while talking about Prajapati.
The accused were:
The 22 people having been acquitted on all charges, including murder, conspiracy and destruction of evidence.
“The prosecution had only three important witnesses to establish its claim about the abduction of Shaikh and Kausar Bi from the bus[, but they] had turned hostile. Besides that, they had no evidence to prove their case,” the judge said.
The applications of two crucial witnesses seeking re-examination were rejected after the court observed that they were not tenable. The witnesses had alleged that they were threatened by the accused on the day their statements were recorded and hence they could only manage to give a partial statement. Interestingly, lawyers of both witnesses were not present today.
Special public prosecutor B.P. Raju told The Wire that the judgment was expected. “It was on the expected lines. Several witnesses we were relying on had turned hostile. We will take a look at the judgement and then decide about the appeal. The final decision would be taken by the head office.”
Rubabuddin, Sohrabuddin’s brother said he was “heartbroken” with today’s verdict. “Everything in the case, right from the investigating agency to the judiciary was managed in this case. I have lost all hopes. I will consult my lawyer on receiving the judgment copy and decide if we should approach the High Court,” he said.
Rubabuddin, also one of the witnesses in the case, had appeared before the court after he was served with several summons. He did several flip-flops and also failed to stick to his original statement given to the police.
Narmadabai, Prajapati’s mother told The Wire, “Meri duniya ujadh gayi hai. Iss nyay se meri duniya waapas nahi basne waali. Mujhe koi ruchi nahi hai inn cheezon mein (My world is already devastated. These judgements won’t bring back my son. I have no interest in the court’s order),” she said. She added that she is hoping that she will not be troubled any further. “Faisla ho gaya hai. Abh aur koi taqleef nahi de yeh umeed karti hoon (Now that the court has passed its verdict, I am hoping that I won’t be bothered by people anymore),” she added.
Narmadabai, a complainant in Prajapati’s encounter case, had told The Wire that she has been consistently facing threats and intimidation from political leaders. She did not appear before the court even after repeated summons. Her deposition was crucial for the case as she was one of the last few persons, who had met Prajapati and he had allegedly expressed his fear of getting killed in an encounter just the way Shaikh was killed.
Details of the case
The court had earlier discharged, for want of evidence, 16 of the 38 persons chargesheeted by the CBI. These included Amit Shah, then Rajasthan home minister Gulabchand Kataria, former Gujarat police chief P.C. Pande and former senior Gujarat police officer D.G. Vanzara.
About Vanzara, the court observed on Friday that the CBI could not establish that Vanzara and accused Ashish Pandya were in contact before Prajapati’s killing. The prosecution’s case is that Vanzara had stopped Pandya from going on a leave and assigned him the job of killing Prajapati.
Deputy SP Patel had been accused of intimidation and evidence tampering. However, the court said on Friday that there were no evidence to show that he had used his power to try and intimidate anyone.
The full judgment will be made available on December 26, the court said.
The IPS officers and politicians who were accused and later discharged in the case (along with their designations at the time) are:
- Amit Shah, Minister of State, Home, Gujarat:The CBI said Shah was aware of the conspiracy to abduct and kill Sheikh. 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. The court discharged Shah in 2014 citing insufficient grounds to frame charges.
- Gulab Chand Kataria, Rajasthan home minister. Kataria was accused of being part of the conspiracy to kill Shaikh at the behest of Rajasthan’s marble traders’ lobby. He was discharged in 2015 on the grounds insufficient evidence.
- D.G. Vanzara, DIG, Gujarat Anti Terrorism Squad. Special CBI court judge S.J. Sharma discharged him in 2017 saying the prosecution had not cited any evidence about his presence at the site of either the abduction or the killing of Sohrabuddin Shaikh, Kausar Bi or Tulsiram Prajapati and the role attributed to him fell within the sphere of discharge of official duty.
- Rajkumar Pandian, SP Gujarat police. As per the CBI, he was part of the team that abducted Sohrabuddin Shaikh and Kausar Bi and actively participated in the conspiracy since its inception. He was discharged in 2016 citing the lack of official sanction to prosecute him.
- Dinesh M.N., SP Rajasthan. The CBI said he facilitated Tulsiram Prajapati’s alleged fake encounter and was also a conspirator. The trial court discharged him in 2017, saying there was no prime facie evidence against him and the CBI also did not have official sanction for his prosecution.
- Narendra Amin, deputy SP, Gujarat: As per the CBI, he was present when Kausar Bi’s body was disposed. The trial court discharged in 2016 him for lack of evidence.
- Abhay Chudasama, SP Gujarat. As per the CBI, Chudasama played a key role in conspiring to kill Sohrabuddin Shaikh. He allegedly also threatened key witnesses and tried to influence Shaikh’s relatives to withdraw their Supreme Court writ. Chudasama was discharged in 2015 due to lack of evidence.
- Ajay Patel, a private person from Gujarat. The CBI said he pressured witnesses. The court discharged him in 2014 for lack of evidence.
- Yashpal Singh Chudasama, a private person from Gujarat. The CBI said Chudasama coerced witnesses. Chudasama claimed he was booked only to be able to build a case against Amit Shah. He was discharged in 2015 for lack of evidence.
- Vimal Patni, marble trader, Rajasthan. The CBI alleged Shaikh tried to extort money from Patni after which the latter called Gulab Chand Kataria, former Rajasthan home minister. Kataria then supposedly called Amit Shah, who instructed the Gujarat police to search for Shaikh. Patni was discharged along with Kataria in 2015 for lack of evidence.
- N.L. Balasubramanyam, SP, Andhra Pradesh police. As per the CBI, Shaikh, Kausar Bi and Prajapati were abducted when they were traveling from Hyderabad to Sangli. The prosecution alleged that Balasubramanyam accommodated Pandian in Hyderabad and was aware of the conspiracy to kill Shaikh. He allegedly also asked his junior officers to travel with the Gujarat police for Shaikh’s abduction. The court discharged him for lack of evidence in 2015.
- Dalpat Singh Rathod, head constable, Rajasthan police. Rathod was allegedly part of Prajapati’s killing. He was discharged in 2017 for lack of sanction to prosecute.
- Prashant Pande, DCP, Gujarat. Pande allegedly delayed the investigation and was also part of a meeting with Shah where instructions to protect the accused were given. The court discharged him in 2015 for lack of sanction to prosecute.
- Geeta Johri, IGP, Gujarat. The CBI alleged Johri delayed the investigation and even destroyed some case records. The court discharged for lack of sanction to prosecute.
- Om Prakash Mathur, additional DGP, Gujarat. He was accused of delaying the investigation. He was discharged in 2015 for lack of evidence.
- Vipul Aggarwal, SP, Gujarat. As per the CBI, he ordered the destruction of leave records of the cop who shot Prajapati and was thus a co-conspirator. The special CBI court initially rejected his discharge plea saying there was prima facie evidence against him. The Bombay high court, however, granted his discharge in September this year.
According to the CBI, Shaikh, an alleged gangster, his wife Kausar Bi and his aide Prajapati were abducted by Gujarat police from a bus when they were on their way to Sangli in Maharashtra from Hyderabad on the night of November 22 and 23, 2005.
Shaikh was killed in an alleged fake encounter on November 26, 2005 near Ahmedabad. His wife was killed three days later and her body was disposed of, the CBI said. A year later, on December 27, 2006, Prajapati was also shot dead by Gujarat and Rajasthan police in an alleged fake encounter near Chapri on Gujarat-Rajasthan border.
The case was initially probed by the Gujarat CID before the CBI took over in 2010. The Supreme Court in 2013 directed that the trial be shifted to Mumbai from Gujarat on the central agency’s request to ensure a fair trial.
Between March 2012 and June 2012, J.T. Utpat heard the case before being succeeded by Judge B.H. Loya, who heard the case from June 2014 till his death in December 2014. His successor Madan Gosavi heard the case till June 2017, discharging some of the accused, including Shah. The case is currently being heard by Special Judge S.J. Sharma, who in 2017 had discharged three accused, including former Gujarat DIG D.G. Vanzara and IPS officer Dinesh M.N.
The prosecution examined 210 witnesses, of which 92 turned hostile.
On November 29, 2017, when the first witness was to be examined, the trial court suddenly gagged the media from reporting on the case on a plea made by the defence advocates. Several journalists, including from The Wire, appealed against the order before the high court, which set aside the order on January 24.
Justice Revati Mohite-Dere, who set aside the gag order and was initially hearing the bunch of discharge applications — decided by Justice A.M. Badar on Monday — was transferred soon after, in February.
Even on the day of the verdict, the court is yet to decide on several contentious applications by key witnesses seeking re-examination. Witnesses have claimed that they have been threatened and faced intimidation from the policemen facing trial. Similar claims has also been made by the complainant and Prajapati’s mother Narmadabai in her exclusive interview to The Wire. Although a prime witness, she failed to appear before the court for deposition.