Citing lack of evidence, a special CBI court on Tuesday discharged retired IPS officer and former Gujarat ATS chief D G Vanzara and Rajasthan-cadre IPS officer Dinesh MN in the case related to the death of gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh, who was allegedly killed in a fake encounter. Vanzara was also discharged in the deaths of Sheikh’s wife, Kausar Bi, and associate, Tulsiram Prajapati.
The court held that there was “no prima facie material” to connect Vanzara and Dinesh to the offence, and the CBI had not obtained sanction to prosecute them. With this, 15 of the 38 accused have either been dropped or discharged from the case.
The CBI had submitted that since the men had exceeded their official call of duty, there was no need to obtain sanction to prosecute them. The CBI had alleged that
Sheikh was killed in a staged encounter by a team of Gujarat and Rajasthan police.
In November 2005, Sheikh was traveling in a Sangli-bound bus from Hyderabad, with Kausar Bi and Prajapati. A police team is reported to have forced them to get off the bus and taken them to Ahmedabad. Sheikh was alleged to have been killed first in a fake encounter, while Kausar Bi and Prajapati, who witnessed the incident, were reportedly killed later.
The court on Tuesday held that there was no material on Kausar Bi’s murder. “In fact, there is absolutely no iota of material as to when, where and who killed Kausar Bi. There is also no material collected from the spot like sand, ash, etc to say that dead body was burnt. It was obligatory for the investigating agency to collect such material to establish the story of burning the dead body in the bed of the said river,” observed the court.
The Gujarat CID, which initially investigated the case, had claimed that Kausar Bi’s body was burnt and the ashes were thrown in the Narmada river near Bharuch.
On Vanzara, the court said there was nothing to connect him to the abduction and the subsequent killings. “In fact, even the prosecution has not whispered (on) the presence of this accused at the spot, on the date and time of abduction, followed by the killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, Tulsiram Prajapati and Kausar Bi,” the court observed.
It further said that the CBI has relied on statements of witnesses, which are “hearsay” in nature, who have stated facts learnt from other co-accused or somewhere else. “It is seen from the entire record of the case that there is no sufficient evidence on facts to indicate that there was meeting of minds between accused and the other accused to abduct and kill… Even their (witness) statements, do not in any way directly implicate the accused in the fake encounters,” the court observed.
It said the role attributed to the accused comes within the sphere of discharge of his official duty. “Consequently, I hold that prior sanction to prosecute this accused was required as contemplated under Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code,” the court said. It also said that “mere conversation” between Vanzara and other police officials “is not sufficient” to charge him with killing Prajapati.
On Dinesh’s role, the court said, “Considering the quality of material on record against Dinesh and taking into consideration entire prosecution story, to my mind, it is clear that there is no prima facie material against this applicant to connect him to the killing of Sohrabuddin and Tulsiram, much less as one of the conspirator.”
Reacting to the court’s decision, Vanzara was quoted as saying that truth had finally prevailed. “I have been saying since the beginning that all these encounters were genuine. They were not fake. Now, when I am finally discharged by the court, it is now established that I was framed in false cases. This judgment vindicated my stand about encounters,” Vanzara told PTI.
“Whatever happened in the past is now past. I do not want to say anything about it. I just want to say thanks to the judiciary, which had always been fair to me. Though justice is delayed, it is not denied,” said Vanzara, who was released on bail in 2015.
“It was indeed very painful to spend almost eight years behind bars. It was nothing short of torture. I lost eight golden years behind bars and also retired during my imprisonment. But, I have left everything behind now. Past is past. I take life positively,” he said.
“I have a very high regard for judiciary, as I was given relief by it in the past too. I am sure that I will get similar justice in the Ishrat case. I am also confident that other officers would get justice eventually,” he said.
Vanzara is still facing murder charges in the Ishrat Jahan encounter case, as the trial is still pending.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Sohrabuddin’s brother, Rubabuddin Shaikh, said he had lost faith in the judiciary. “What was the CBI doing all this while,” he asked.
He accused the central agency of working at the behest of the government. “How can someone who has spent years in jail be discharged like this on a technicality,” he said, adding that he would move the higher court and his “legal battle” would continue.
The court had on Monday rejected the discharge plea of two Rajasthan police officials. They, along with 21 others, will face a trial for the deaths. The CBI court is likely to frame charges against them on August 9.