The Gujarat High Court, which is hearing a petition filed by former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt in connection with the alleged custodial death in Jamnagar in 1990, on Monday instructed his lawyer to present a final list of witnesses for summoning by Tuesday.
Bhatt had moved the HC last month, challenging the trial court’s order in which it had quashed his plea of producing 40 witnesses in the alleged custodial death in Jamnagar in which the former IPS officer is one of the accused.
The HC’s instruction comes as it emerged that of the 40 witnesses that Bhatt has reportedly called for, many are dead and few others, are not in a position to be presented in court. Justice Gokani has also sought the copy of specific applications filed earlier by Bhatt in the Sessions Court to determine Public Prosecutor Mitesh Amin’s assertions that Bhatt’s application was a “dilatory tactic”.
The High Court bench of Justice Sonia Gokani is most likely to pronounce its order on whether the witnesses be summoned under section 233 (as defence witness) or section 311 (as court witness) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) on Tuesday.
Bhatt’s lawyer B B Naik has urged the court to summon the witnesses under section 311 so that he could cross-examine them. “If called under section 233, I can’t cross-examine. If the witnesses don’t support their earlier statements, it won’t be possible for me to press on it,” Naik had argued.
Public Prosecutor Amin, on the other hand, has argued the genuineness of Bhatt’s prayer. “Of the 40 persons, barring certain investigating officers, rest were not even cited as witnesses. Moreover, petitioner was aware since 2012 that these witnesses will not be examined by prosecution, then why the application now, after seven years,” he asked. Arguing in favour of summoning the witnesses under section 233, the government’s law officer contended, “Why does the court have to take the burden of witnesses such as those who were present during the commute from point A to point B? It (The onus) should be on the accused to prove it.”
Justice Gokani noted, “While the accused can’t shift responsibility (of summoning witnesses) on the court and everyone needs to shoulder their own responsibility, this court too, at the same time, needs to look at whether the discretion exercised by the sessions court and the impugned order, if in fact they (sessions court) were aware of their responsibility.”
The case dates back to 1990 when Bhatt was posted as the additional superintendent of police in Jamnagar. He had detained around 150 people during a communal riot in Jamjodhpur town. One of the detained persons Prabhudas Vaishnani had died in a hospital after he was released, allegedly due to torture. A complaint of custodial death was registered against eight policemen, including Bhatt, by Amrutlal Vaishnani, the brother of the deceased.