New Delhi: A special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Ahmedabad on Wednesday discharged police officers G.L. Singhal, Tarun Barot and Anaju Chaudhary in the 2004 Ishrat Jahan alleged fake encounter case.
Special CBI judge V.R. Raval allowed the discharge applications of Singhal, Barot (now retired) and Chaudhary.
“The CBI has not mentioned anything specific against the sanction order (in which the Gujarat government declined sanction to prosecute the three accused) which also leads to believe the act of applicants/accused was in discharge of official duties,” the court observed.
The CBI on March 20 conveyed to the court that the state government had declined sanction for prosecution of the three accused.
The court in its October 2020 order observed that they had “acted in their official duties,” so the probe agency was required to obtain sanction for prosecution. Under Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code, sanction is required for prosecuting government servants for anything done in the discharge of official duty.
Ishrat Jahan, a 19-year-old woman from Mumbra near Mumbai, was killed along with Javed Shaikh alias Pranesh Pillai, Amjadali Akbarali Rana and Zeeshan Johar by Gujarat police in an ‘encounter’ near Ahmedabad on June 15, 2004.
A magisterial enquiry, SIT probe and CBI investigation subsequently all concluded that this was a fake encounter – that the police claim of having fired on Ishrat Jahan and others in ‘self-defence’ was a lie.
Inspector General of Police Singhal, retired police officers Barot and J.G. Parmar, and Chaudhary had filed applications before the court seeking dropping of proceedings for want of the requisite sanction to prosecute them. Parmar died during the course of hearing in the case.
On Wednesday, the judge said when this court earlier observed that the act of the accused was while discharging official duties, nobody challenged the order.
“Not only that, but the Central Government and the Government of Gujarat have also believed that the act of the applicants/accused is while discharging the duties and therefore, the government was moved for sanction and the sanction is refused also,” the court observed.
There is nothing on record, even prima facie, to suggest that the victims were not terrorists and the IB inputs were not genuine, the court said in its order. It is unclear why the court saw this as important to state, since a fake encounter is illegal no matter who it is conducted against, and the murder charge against police officers is not dependent on the identity of the victims.
“The CBI has not mentioned anything specific against the sanction order which also leads to believe the act of applicants/accused was in discharge of official duties,” the judge said.
The court also refused to accept the argument put forth by Special Public Prosecutor for the CBI, R.C. Kodekar, that the government order declining sanction to prosecute the three applicants was issued without the application of mind.
The CBI had named seven police officers – P.P. Pandey, D.G. Vanzara, N.K. Amin, Singhal, Barot, Parmar and Chaudhary – as accused in its first chargesheet filed in 2013. In 2017, the Supreme Court forced Amin and Barot to resign from their posts.
In 2019, the CBI court dropped proceedings against former police officers Vanzara and Amin, after the state government refused sanction to prosecute them.
Earlier, in 2018, former in-charge Director General of Police Pandey was discharged from the case. He had earlier been arrested and then released on bail, and the state police had reinstated him as soon as he was released.
The court on Wednesday discharged Singhal, Chaudhary and Barot from offences under IPC Sections 120-B (criminal conspiracy), 341, 342, 343 (all for wrongful restraint), 365 (kidnapping or abducting with intent secretly and wrongfully to confine person), 368 (wrongfully concealing or keeping in confinement, kidnapped or abducted person), 302 (murder) and 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence).
They were also discharged under sections 25(1)(e) and 27 of the Indian Arms Act.
Ishrat Jahan’s mother, Shamima Kauser, had filed a writ petition soon after her daughter’s death in 2004, claiming that this was a fake encounter. Since then, multiple allegations have been levelled against Ishrat – including that she was a Lashkar-e-Tayyabba operative, even though it is still unclear what intelligence inputs, if any, linked her to the group. These allegations were used to divert attention away from the fact that no matter who she was, killing her while she was in police custody in a fake encounter is legally unjustifiable.
The killings also became fuel for a political slugfest between the Bharatiya Janata Party – under whose watch the encounter in Gujarat took place – and the Congress – which was in power at the Centre. BJP leaders even claimed that the Congress was “siding with terrorists” to discredit Narendra Modi, then the chief minister of Gujarat.
(With PTI inputs)