With the proceedings against the three dropped, the trial has practically come to an end, unless the CBI appeals against the same.

Ishrat Jahan, her friend Javed Sheikh alias Pranesh, Amzad Ali Rana and Zeeshan Johar were killed in an alleged fake encounter by the Ahmedabad police on the outskirts of the city in June 2004. (File)

A special CBI court in Ahmedabad on Wednesday discharged three police officers in the 2004 extrajudicial killing of Ishrat Jahan and four others stating there was “no question of any fake encounter” and there was “nothing on record to suggest that the victims were not terrorists”.

IPS officer GL Singhal, retired police officer Tarun Barot and assistant sub-inspector with State Reserve Police Force Anaju Chaudhary were the last three accused from the Gujarat police cadre in the case against whom the charges of abduction, murder, criminal conspiracy and others were dropped almost 17 years after the extrajudicial killing took place on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. Singhal is currently an Inspector General of Police with the Gujarat police and is posted at Police Training Academy.

In its order, the court observed, “There is no question of any fake encounter on the part of any such police officer… They are always dedicated to their duties. Looking at the material found from the Indica car, it is established that the information was correct, sound and there was a substantial force in the information. Therefore, these four persons (who were killed in the encounter) were required to be prevented from all these aforesaid activities… As a matter of fact, as per the provisions of law, all the police officers are considered to be on duty for all 24 hours… There is nothing on record even prima facie to suggest that the victims were not terrorists, the I.B. (Intelligence Bureau) inputs were not genuine.”

Ishrat Jahan, Javed Shaikh alias Pranesh Pillai, and two others — Amjad Ali Rana and Zeeshan Johar, who were said to be Pakistani nationals — were killed near Kotarpur waterworks on the outskirts of Ahmedabad on June 15, 2004, by Ahmedabad City Detection of Crime Branch (DCB) then led by DG Vanzara.

The DCB had then claimed the four persons were operatives of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, a terrorist organisation, out to kill the then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.

In the CBI’s main charge-sheet, filed in 2013, the prosecuting agency had named seven police officers — P P Pandey, D G Vanzara, N K Amin, J G Parmar, Singhal, Barot, and Chaudhary — from the Gujarat cadre as accused and charged them with murder, abduction, and destruction of evidence among others.

Pandey, who was the joint commissioner of police (crime), Ahmedabad City, at the time of the encounter, was discharged in 2018.

By 2014, the CBI filed a supplementary charge-sheet, adding four intelligence officials as accused. The charge-sheet stated the “fake encounter was a result of the joint operation of the Gujarat Police and SIB (Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau), Ahmedabad”. The CBI investigation also found that weapons had been sourced from the office of the SIB.

“On 14.06.2004, Shri GL Singhal had gone to the office of the SIB as per instructions of Shri DG Vanzara and had collected weapons in a bag from SIB office, Ahmedabad. He had sent this bag through Shri Nizamuddin Burhanmiyan to Shri Tarun A Barot, who was at Khodiyar farm”, the charge-sheet stated. The SIB was then headed by Rajinder Kumar.

In May 2019, the special CBI court discharged Vanzara and Amin in the case, while Parmar was abated following his death in September 2020. None of the orders to drop proceedings against Pandey, Vanzara and Amin were challenged by the CBI, a move that only strengthened the discharge plea filed by Singhal, Barot and Chaudhary on March 20 seeking that the proceedings against them be dropped by the special CBI court.

The discharge application also stated that the Gujarat government, through Additional Chief Secretary of Home department Pankaj Kumar, had declined to grant sanction to the CBI to prosecute the policemen.

The CBI had sought permission from the state government to prosecute Singhal, Barot and Chaudhary on the direction of special CBI Judge V R Raval. Under the Code of Criminal Procedure Section 197, a sanction is required for prosecuting government servants for offences alleged in the discharge of official duty.

The CBI, through its special public prosecutor RC Kodekar, had opposed the discharge applications of the three policemen primarily on the ground that it is only after the trial begins that one can decide whether the alleged offences were in discharge of an official duty or not and that the state government’s refusal to grant sanction was “without application of mind”.

The court, however, noted: “In short, a refusal of sanction order is a detailed one and based on the basis of entire material belonging to the case. The order is passed with the application of mind and the government has also come to the conclusion that the offences committed by the present applicants are such which have been committed while discharging their official duties as police officers, and also the investigation against the accused is not proper and there is no evidence against the accused.”

Judge Raval also took into account that as was observed by the court in an October 2020 order that the encounter was a part of the policemen’s official duty, and neither the CBI nor Ishrat’s mother Shamima Kauser, challenged the order before a higher court, indicating “the observations made by this court have been accepted by the CBI as well as the mother of the victim”.

In an order dated October 23, 2020, Judge Raval had also given credence to the Gujarat police’s version of the encounter, pinning Jahan and the three others, who were killed, as being “not common, simple and ordinary offenders, but they were alleged terrorists and having criminal history”. The order had also noted that since the allegations of terrorism against the four who were killed were based on “certain information” received by the Gujarat police, it must have then been based on “sound, solid and correct information”.

Unless the CBI appeals against the discharge of Singhal, Barot and Chaudhary, the trial in the 2004 case may practically come to an end.

At the time of discharging Amin and Vanzara, the special CBI court had also broadly relied on the fact that the state government had refused to grant sanction to prosecute the two officers and it had not been opposed or challenged by the CBI. Ishrat’s mother, Shamima Kauser, however, had opposed the discharge pleas of Vanzara and Amin. However, soon after Vanzara and Amin were given the clean chit, Shamima through her counsel, Supreme Court advocate Vrinda Grover, had issued a statement in October 2019, stating that she will be withdrawing from the case and it is now up to the prosecuting agency to see to it that the guilty are punished. The statement was also taken in the court’s records by the then special CBI judge RK Chudawala.

This story first appeared in indianexpress.com on APR 1, 2021 here.