THE GUJARAT government on Sunday formed a six-member Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by the state’s Anti-Terrorism Squad DIG Deepan Bhadran to investigate retired DGP R B Sreekumar, Mumbai-based activist Teesta Setalvad and former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt for criminal conspiracy and forgery, and other charges, “as per directions of the Supreme Court”, a top official told The Indian Express.
The move follows an FIR lodged against the three at the Ahmedabad Detection of Crime Branch (DCB) on Saturday, a day after the Supreme Court upheld the clean chit given to the then chief minister Narendra Modi, his council of ministers and bureaucrats on their role in the 2002 riots.
Setalvad, who was brought from Mumbai to Ahmedabad by an ATS team, and Sreekumar, who was arrested from his home on Saturday, were produced before Metropolitan Magistrate S P Patel on Sunday with the police seeking remand.
According to sources, even as the hearing was on, Setalvad was taken to hospital for a “medical check-up” after she complained of injuries caused by an alleged assault by the police while detaining her. The police have denied the allegation.
Sources said Bhatt was taken under custody on Sunday by a DCB team from Palanpur jail in Banaskantha where he has been lodged in a 1996 narcotics case. DCP (Crime) Chaitanya Mandalik told The Indian Express that the process of bringing Bhatt to the DCB office in Ahmedabad on a transfer warrant and arresting him “will take two to three days”.
Mandalik is part of the new SIT under DIG Bhadran. The other members are: ATS SP Sunil Joshi, Deputy SP (Special Operations Group) B C Solanki, who will be the Investigating Officer, police inspectors P G Vaghela and A D Parmar, and a woman inspector H V Raval. The terms of reference include collection of evidence to investigate the case “as per the directions of the Supreme Court”.
On Friday, while dismissing a petition filed by Zakia Jafri against the clean chit given to Modi, the Supreme Court had ruled that “no material was discovered pointing towards any meeting of minds/ conspiracy in the higher echelons of the administration or the political establishment conspired with other persons to cause such riots or turned a Nelson’s eye when the riots had triggered and continued”.
It pointed to a “coalesced effort of the disgruntled officials of the state of Gujarat along with others… to create sensation by making revelations which were false to their own knowledge. The falsity of their claims had been fully exposed by the SIT (in the Gujarat riots case) after a thorough investigation”.
It noted that “intriguingly, the present proceedings have been pursued for the last 16 years…to keep the pot boiling, obviously, for ulterior design…all those involved in such abuse of process, need to be in the dock and proceeded with in accordance with law”.
Asked about the charges against the three, DCP Mandalik said: “The charges are forging government records, submitting forged documents and abuse of power. The arrested accused have been uncooperative so far and we are investigating the case from all angles. Prima facie, the charges against two ex-IPS officers are their affidavits and documents submitted in the case. We are also in the process of retrieving the documents they have submitted in front of commissions, courts and the SIT for further probe. The investigation is at an early stage but we believe that there could be other persons also behind the conspiracy.”
Asked why the time frame of the offence in the FIR was recorded as “January 1 2002 to June 15, 2022”, Mandalik said: “The entire case began after the Godhra riots in February 2002 , therefore we have kept a time period bracket of 2002 to 2022 to investigate all angles in it.”
Setalvad was brought to the DCB office in Ahmedabad’s Jamalpur early on Sunday after which she was taken to civil hospital for a RT PCR test. Later, while being presented in court, Setalvad told reporters that she is “not a criminal”.
Setalvad, Sreekumar and Bhatt have been booked under IPC sections 120 B (criminal conspiracy), 468 (forgery), 471 (using as genuine a forged document or electronic record), 194 (giving or fabricating false evidence with intent to procure conviction of capital offence, 211 (false charge of offence made with intent to injure) and 218 (public servant framing incorrect record or writing with intent to save person from punishment or property from forfeiture).
Based on the Supreme Court verdict, the FIR states that the accused would be investigated for “finding out the behind the scene criminal conspiracy and financial and other benefits, inducements for commission of various serious offences in collusion with other individuals, entities and organisations”.
(With Sohini Ghosh)