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Gujarat HC refuses to suspend Sanjiv Bhatt’s sentence in 1990 custodial death case

A division bench headed by Justice Bela Trivedi informed that they are “not inclined” to the prayer of their applications. A reasoned order was dictated for the court’s rejection, leaving the two with just the option of approaching the Supreme Court.

By: Express News Service | Ahmedabad |
September 26, 2019 8:44:37 am
Gujarat HC refuses to suspend Sanjiv Bhatt’s sentence in 1990 custodial death case Sanjiv Bhatt. (File/Express Photo: Javed Raja)

The Gujarat High Court Wednesday rejected the applications of former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt and another retired police officer Pravinsinh Zala, seeking suspension of their sentence in a 1990 custodial death case. A Jamnagar sessions court sentenced the two to life imprisonment under charges of murder (IPC Section 302), in June this year.

A division bench headed by Justice Bela Trivedi informed that they are “not inclined” to the prayer of their applications. A reasoned order was dictated for the court’s rejection, leaving the two with just the option of approaching the Supreme Court.

The Jamnagar court also convicted five other policemen in the case that dates back to October 30, 1990. Bhatt, then additional superintendent of police of Jamnagar district, and other police officers arrested 133 persons from Jamjodhpur town for allegedly indulging in rioting during a nationwide bandh by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). The bandh call was in protest against BJP president LK Advani’s arrest during his rath yatra.

Prabhudas (40) and his youngest brother Rameshcha-ndra were among the arrested who were booked under the Terrorism and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act.

They were sent to Jamnagar jail the following day after being remanded in judicial custody and were released on bail on Nove-mber 8, 1990. The brothers were admitted to hospital following renal problems and old Prabhudas died on November 18, 1990. Doct-ors attributed his death to to acute renal failure and cardio-respiratory arrest. The Jamnagar court convicted Bhatt on the basis of evidence that said renal failure and cardiac arrest were caused as a result of internal injuries sustained due to “police torture”.

Read | Gujarat High Court takes objection to Sanjiv Bhatt questioning fairness of trial

Bhatt and Zala moved the Gujarat HC against their conviction and sought suspension of their sentence. On Wednesday, Bhatt’s lawyer, senior advocate BB Naik said in the court that there was no medical evidence connecting the death to injury. Naik said, “The trial was vitiated and the court failed in its duty to find out the truth.”

Justice Trivedi pointed out on Wednesday that Bhatt’s counsel could have raised objections regarding their grievances, at the relevant time during the trial.

Naik also said that the investigating officers who recorded statements of witnesses at the time were not examined by the prosecution. This was contended by the public prosecutor on the ground that Bhatt moved the HC seeking examination of up to 40 witnesses as defence witness of which, the court permitted the examination of three — PP Pandey, HP Singh and TS Bisht — as court witnesses. The public prosecutor submitted that summons were issued to the three but they were dropped by Bhatt. Naik submitted that the witnesses had to be dropped because “the state had issued threat to them”.

Naik also raised contention on requirement of sanction to prosecute under CrPC section 197 as the said events and custodial torture transpired during the duty hours, yet sanction was not sought. Naik submitted, “There’s not a word in the judgment on why sanction was not required… the accused were on duty when the incident happened… there’s no reason, no discussion on why the two accused (Bhatt and Zala) were charged with murder… there is no clinching evidence to show this as a homicidal death and when (conclusion of) appeal can take up to five years, he must be enlarged on bail.”

The public prosecutor Mitesh Amin contested the arguments, saying that Bhatt exceeded his duty and thus there was no need of seeking sanction to prosecute.

He said, “This can’t be said as a case where the accused beating up those in custody was in discharge of official duties. Therefore, this is not a case where sanction is required.”

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