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Additional Secretary B K Prasad’s coaching of a witness in the inquiry into the missing papers of the Ishrat Jahan case has resulted in tailormade testimony.
It is learnt that in the report submitted Wednesday by Prasad, former Home Ministry officer Ashok Kumar’s statement, recorded on April 26 this year as part of the probe, was in tune with directions passed to him a day earlier by Prasad.
In his testimony, Kumar is learnt to have said that he never dealt with the file relating to the case, that he had never seen the files, and that he was not aware of the whereabouts of the missing papers.
In his statement, Kumar is learnt to have said that he was on tour during the period that the Centre’s second affidavit in the Ishrat Jahan case was filed, and that on his return, the Director (North East), who was the link officer, did not show him or hand over the file to him.
In his report, Prasad is learnt to have concluded that the missing papers appear to have been knowingly removed from the file or might have been unintentionally misplaced between September 18, 2009 and September 24, 2009, either by those who dealt with the file during the period or by some other officer of staff under whose custody the file would have been during this period.
The inquiry is said to have found that the file pertaining to the second affidavit was not put up by the Director or any of the subordinate officers of the Internal Security division to then Joint Secretary (Internal Security) D Diptivilasa, who initiated the file notings pertaining to the second affidavit on September 18, 2009. The file was returned to Diptivilasa on September 24, 2009 with instructions from then Home Secretary G K Pillai to get the affidavit filed.
In his statement, Diptivilasa is learnt to have said that when the file was returned to him on September 24, 2009, the papers were not in the file. It is also learnt that the inquiry concluded that the only possibility that remained was that these documents were delinked or retained during the movement of the file between Pillai and then Home Minister P Chidambaram.
The inquiry report, it is learnt, concluded that the papers missing from the file were not put up on the file at all and went missing between September 18, 2009 and September 24, 2009 and not during any subsequent period.
Besides Kumar, statements of several other officers who served in the Home Ministry at various stages were recorded as part of the inquiry: D Diptivilasa who served as JS (IS-I) from January 1, 2008 to March 3, 2010; Dharmendra Sharma, who served as JS (IS-I) from March 3, 2010 to January 8, 2013; Rakesh Singh, who served as JS (IS-I) from January 8, 2013 to October 10, 2014; M A Ganapathy who served as JS (IS-I) from October 10, 2014 to April 14, 2016; P K Mishra, who served as Director (IS-II) from March 1, 2006 to February 28, 2011; Ramesh Kumar Suman, Director (IS-II) from December 23, 2011 to March 8, 2015; S K Chikkara, who has been serving as Deputy Secretary (IS-II) from March 8, 2015 till date; R V S Mani, who served as Under Secretary (IS-VI) from March 3, 2006 to June 8, 2010; V K Upadhdyay who has been serving as Under Secretary (IS-VI) from October 2011; and A K Bawalia who served as Under Secretary (IS-VI).
The significance of the missing papers
In its first affidavit filed in the Gujarat High Court on August 6, 2009 which was hearing a case filed by Ishrat’s mother Shamima Kausar, the Home Ministry argued against a CBI probe. It cited Intelligence Bureau inputs that Ishrat, her companion Javed Shaikh alias Pranesh Pillai, Zeeshan Johar and Amjad Ali Rana were part of a Lashkar sleeper cell when they were killed in an encounter with the Gujarat police on June 15, 2004. It stated “Ishrat was actively associated with LeT”.
Barely six weeks later, in a second affidavit filed on September 29 that year, the Home Ministry said that the IB inputs were “not conclusive proof” that the persons killed had terror links. It also said that the government had no objections if the court ordered a CBI probe as was asked by Ishrat’s mother.
Accusing the UPA of playing politics with terror, the BJP claimed that Ishrat Jahan’s links to terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba were beyond doubt.
It accused Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and former Home Minister P Chidambaram of plotting a conspiracy to discredit and frame then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi by distorting facts about Ishrat.
The Congress, in turn, accused Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah of attempting to derail the judicial process and trial in the case.
At the heart of the bitter standoff between the BJP and Congress are documents which Home Minister Rajnath Singh claimed — in Lok Sabha on March 10 this year — disappeared from Home Ministry records during the rule of the UPA government.
These five documents, according to the Home Ministry, are:
* Office copy of the letter and enclosure sent by then Home Secretary G K Pillai to then Attorney General (AG) G E Vahanvati on September 18, 2009
* Office copy of another letter sent by Pillai to Vahanvati on September 21, 2009
* Draft further affidavit as vetted by the Attorney General
* Draft further affidavit as amended by then Home Minister P Chidambaram on September 24, 2009
* Office copy of the further affidavit filed in the Gujarat High Court on September 29, 2009
These documents, the government suggested, could reveal the manner in which changes were made in the second affidavit and show who said what on these changes.
With Vahanvati’s death in September 2014, they could also fill a crucial gap in the narrative – the Attorney General’s opinion on the changes made in the second affidavit and the changes, if any, made by Chidambaram to the draft received from the AG.
Pillai stoked a controversy in February this year when he said that the affidavit was changed “at the political level”. And that Chidambaram, in his capacity as then Home Minister, had personally dictated changes in the affidavit to drop any references to Ishrat’s Lashkar-e-Taiba links.
Speaking to The Indian Express last week, Pillai said his first letter to the AG was a covering letter sent along with the draft of the second affidavit. And that his second letter “must have been a reminder”.
“The second affidavit was drafted by the Home Minister and handed over to the Joint Secretary with instructions to ask the Home Secretary to send it to the Attorney General for vetting. The Joint Secretary brought it to me and I dictated a cover letter. That is why the note sheet says ‘issue dictated letter to Attorney General’,” Pillai said.
“Normally one wouldn’t write to the AG, who is of a Cabinet Minister’s rank, without the approval of the Home Minister. I would have written in the covering letter that this draft has the approval of the Home Minister. So that is why that letter could have gone missing,” he said.
It is learnt that during the inquiry, a soft copy of the first letter written by Pillai to Vahanavati has been retrieved from a computer in the Home Ministry.
Chidambaram has accepted responsibility for the second affidavit, calling it “an absolutely correct affidavit”.
Stating that he stands by the second affidavit as intelligence inputs about Ishrat’s terror links were not conclusive evidence, Chidambaram added that Pillai as Home Secretary was “equally responsible”.
The former Home Minister said he had made only minor editorial changes to the draft vetted by the AG.
The fresh affidavit stated, “The Central Government in the said affidavit did not address any issue relating to the merits or otherwise of the police action. It was essentially concerned with the dealing of allegations relating to the intelligence inputs which were available with the Central Government and which are shared on a regular basis with the State Governments.”
“The primary concern of the Central Government was to see that the inputs gathered by the Indian security agencies and their efforts were not discredited. It should be clear to all such inputs do not constitute conclusive proof and it is for the State Government and the State police to act on such inputs. The Central Government is in no way concerned with such action nor does it condone or endorse any unjustified or excessive action,” it said.
“If on a proper consideration of the facts it is found that an independent inquiry and investigation has to be carried by CBI or otherwise, the Union of India would have no objection to such a course and would abide by such orders which the court may deem fit to pass,” it added.