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Prosecution witness number 41 in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh alleged fake encounter case was declared ‘hostile’ by the special CBI court Wednesday after he did not support the prosecution’s case.
The witness, who owns a dhaba in Sahajpur area of Pune district, had earlier told the CBI that Gujarat policemen had brought a man to his dhaba, later identified as Tulsiram Prajapati, an associate of Sohrabuddin, who was also killed in an alleged fake encounter case.
The dhaba owner is the 28th witness in the case to turn hostile.
On Wednesday, within 20 minutes of being examined by the prosecution, special public prosecutor B P Raju declared him hostile after he denied the incident the CBI says he had spoken about in his statement recorded in November 2011.
According to the CBI, the witness had said in his statement that Gujarat police personnel had come to his dhaba in two Tata Sumo vehicles “five or six years” ago. He had said that the policemen told him that they have picked up a criminal from Hyderabad and were going to Gujarat. The witness had also given a description of the man and identified a photograph — that of Prajapati.
On Wednesday, the witness denied all this. He told the court that since his dhaba was on a highway, policemen from Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab also came there regularly – to eat as well as to freshen up. Asked by the prosecutor whether he remembers that a team of Gujarat police had gone there in 2005, the witness said that it was true that a team had come.
He denied knowledge of the year this had happened. The witness also said that he could not say on how many occasions police personnel from Gujarat had come to his dhaba since policemen came there often.
After declaring him hostile, Raju questioned the witness on his previous statement. Denying his earlier statement to the CBI, the witness told the court, “It did not happen that one of the police officers told me to serve food to the criminal who was in Tata Sumo. It did not happen that one of the policemen had cautioned that he was a dreaded criminal and may try to escape. It did not happen that I saw the criminal who was quite young and of light built.”
The witness also denied that he had ever served food, or still does, to customers in their cars. He denied that he was shown a photograph of the man by the CBI investigators in 2011, and that he had identified him to be the same person brought by Gujarat policemen to his dhaba. “It did not happen that I saw the Gujarat police proceeding towards Mumbai with the criminal,” he said.
He also refuted the suggestion by the prosecutor that he was lying in court at the instance of the accused to save them.
Twenty-two accused, including policemen from Gujarat, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh, are on trial in the case. The accused face charges including murder, criminal conspiracy, destruction of evidence. The court has so far discharged or dropped charges against 15 accused, including BJP president and then Gujarat minister Amit Shah.
According to CBI, Prajapati was a witness to the abduction of Sohrabuddin and his wife Kausarbi in November 2005 and was therefore subsequently killed in 2006. CBI claims that Sohrabuddin was killed in an alleged staged encounter in 2005 and Kausarbi, too, was subsequently killed.
So far, witnesses, including passengers who were in the bus in which Sohrabuddin and Kausarbi were travelling in, have not supported the prosecution’s case.