Former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt has been sentenced to life imprisonment by Jamnagar Sessions Court in Gujarat after he was found guilty in a 1990 custodial death case.

Bhatt, a social activist, has been a voice against the Modi government since the riots in Gujarat in 2002. He has faced various charges over the years. He has been in and out of custody for almost two decades now.

Here is an account of the important events in his life that culminated in his life sentence:

November 1990: Bhatt, in 1990, was posted as Assistant Superintendent of Police in Jamnagar district. He detained about 150 people in order to control a riot there. Prabhudas Vaishnani, one of the detainees, died of kidney failure a few days later, after he was hospitalised. His brother lodged an FIR against Bhatt and six other policemen, alleging that Prabhudas had been tortured in police custody.

Feb. 27, 2002: On that morning, 59 Hindu pilgrims were killed in a fire inside the Sabarmati Express train near the Godhra railway station in Gujarat.

Sabarmati Express that was set on fire in February 2002 at the Godhra station. (Photo by AFP)
Sabarmati Express that was set on fire in February 2002 at the Godhra station. (Photo by AFP)

Following this, a group of social activists had formed the Concerned Citizens Tribunal. Haren Pandya, Gujarat’s then home minister, allegedly told this tribunal that then Chief Minister Narendra Modi had organised a meeting at the chief minister’s residence, post the massacre.

Pandya said that Bhatt was not among the many police officials who attended this meeting.

According to Pandya, at this meeting, Modi had asked police officials not to come in the way of “the Hindu backlash”, according to reports. Pandya was later assassinated by unidentified men.

Feb. 28, 2002: Ehsan Jafri, a Congress leader, was among 68 people killed at the Gulbarg Society in a mob attack, a day after the Godhra train burning incident that set off riots in the state. Bhatt was then the Deputy Commissioner in charge of Internal Security at the State Intelligence Bureau.

November 2003: Hearing a petition filed by the NHRC and NGO Citizens for Justice and Peace, the Supreme Court passed an order staying the trial.

November 2007: The Gujarat High Court dismissed a petition of Zakia Jafri, wife of Ehsan Jafri, seeking the court’s directive for police to register a complaint against then Chief Minister Narendra Modi and 62 others for their alleged involvement in the Gulbarg Society massacre.

Zakia, the wife of Ehsan Jafri, an ex-MP who was killed in the riots. (File Photo)
Zakia, the wife of Ehsan Jafri, an ex-MP who was killed in the riots. (File Photo)

The key witnesses in the case were (former IPS officers) Sanjiv Bhatt, RB Sreekumar and Rahul Sharma. Tehelka magazine’s sting operation also brought out findings regarding the case.

March 2008: The Supreme Court directed the Gujarat government to set up a Special Investigation Team (SIT) for another probe into 14 Godhra and post-Godhra communal riot cases. The SIT was asked to investigate the incidents that occurred in Godhra, Sardarpura, Gulbarg Society, Ode, Naroda Gaon, Naroda Patiya, Deepla Darwaza and the one in which three British nationals of Indian origin were killed.

April 2011: (Former) IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt filed a petition with depositions and affidavits before the National Commission for Minorities, the Nanavati Commission and the Supreme Court with incriminating material suggesting the state’s involvement and deliberate inaction during the 2002 violence.

Bhatt mentioned six witnesses, who could testify about his presence at the alleged meeting held at Modi’s residence. One of them was Bhatt’s own driver Constable KD Panth who followed them in Bhatt’s official car, according to reports.

May 2011: Bhatt was interrogated by the Justice Shah & Navati Commission in connection with the 2002 Gujarat communal riots case.

June 2011: Panth filed an FIR against Bhatt, alleging that Bhatt had threatened him and forced him to sign a false affidavit. He also claimed to the Supreme Court-appointed SIT that Bhatt was on leave in February 2002, when the riots broke out.

August 2011: On Aug. 8, 2011, the Gujarat government suspended Bhatt, accusing him of “unauthorised absence from duty”, not appearing before an inquiry committee and using his official car while not on duty.

October 2011: After multiple investigations, Bhatt was jailed on Oct. 1 after being arrested on Sept. 30 in connection with Panth’s FIR.

Bhatt was lodged at Sabarmati jail on Oct. 1, 2011, by the then Narendra Modi government in Gujarat, on allegations of fabricating evidence to implicate the chief minister in the 2002 riots. He had moved a bail application on Oct. 3.

Suspended IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt hugs his wife Shweta after his release from Sabarmati Central Jail. (Photo by PTI)
Suspended IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt hugs his wife Shweta after his release from Sabarmati Central Jail. (PTI Photo)

After 17 days, a local sessions court granted him bail, overruling reservations from the state government.

November 2012: Bhatt, along with six other officers, was charged with murder in the 1990 custodial death case of Prabhudas Vaishnani.

December 2012: Bhatt’s wife Shweta, who stood in the 2012 Maninagar Assembly constituency elections in Gujarat, lost by a huge margin to the then CM Modi.

April 2013: The Supreme Court-appointed SIT said that as per all the evidence gathered, IPS officer Bhatt was not present during the high-level meeting held on Feb. 27, 2002.

November 2013: Bhatt alleged that city police were not providing him with adequate security, and that there was an increased threat to the lives of him and his family from “right-wing fundamentalists and supporters of Narendra Modi”, according to reports.

August 2015: On Aug. 19, it was confirmed that he was sacked from his job after he received a letter regarding the same at his residence.

Finally removed from service today after serving 27 years in the Indian Police Service. Once again eligible for employment. 🙂 Any takers?
— Sanjiv Bhatt (IPS) (@sanjivbhatt) August 19, 201
It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.
— Sanjiv Bhatt (IPS) (@sanjivbhatt) August 19, 2015

October 2015: Supreme Court cleared the way for criminal prosecution of the sacked Sanjiv Bhatt for allegedly forcing a junior police official to file a false affidavit in a Gujarat riots case and allegedly hacking the email account of the then additional advocate general of Gujarat Tushar Mehta.

July 2018: After the Gujarat High Court on July 25 dismissed an appeal filed by Bhatt’s wife against the civic body’s decision to demolish a part of his house in Ahmedabad, the Supreme Court stayed the demolition till July 30. His neighbour and petitioner Pravinchandra Patel had in 2012 moved the High Court, seeking a direction to the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation to demolish an “unauthorised construction”.

On July 30, hours after the Supreme Court rejected a plea seeking a stay on the demolition, civic officials started razing the illegal construction at Bhatt’s residence.

September 2018: Bhatt and seven others were arrested on Sept. 5 by the Gujarat CID in connection with a 1996 case of alleged drug planting to arrest a man. Bhatt and some former policemen attached with the Banaskantha Police, were initially detained for questioning in the case.

December 2018: A Gujarat High Court judge on Dec. 19 withdrew himself from the hearing of Bhatt’s bail application. Bhatt had approached the High Court after a court at Palanpur in Banaskantha District rejected his bail plea.

January 2019: Shweta Bhatt’s car was hit allegedly by an Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation truck on Jan. 7, a day after Bhatt’s case was re-listed in the court of Justice Sonia Gokani.

May 2019: A bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna rejected the bail plea from Bhatt’s two-decade-old drug seizure case.

June 2019: A court in Gujarat, on June 20, sentenced Bhatt to life imprisonment in the custodial death case dating back to 1990 when he was posted as additional superintendent of police.

This story first appeared in The Deccan Herald on June 20, 2019 here.