The Sohrabuddin and Prajapati cases were clubbed and transferred from an Ahmedabad court to the Mumbai court in 2012 following a Supreme Court order. The Mumbai court gave the discharge order while hearing interim applications of 38 accused, including Shah.
Discharging Shah, special judge M B Gosavi said, “I am of the opinion that the inference that the CBI draws from the aforesaid facts is not acceptable as the entire record when considered in totality is not sufficient to proceed against the applicant accused. For reasons recorded separately, accused number 16 Amit Anilchandra Shah stands discharged of the offences punishable under various sections of the Indian Penal Code.”
The judge observed that the CBI mostly relied on evidence which are hearsay in nature. “I found substance in the main contention of the defence that the accused is apparently shown to be involved in this case by CBI for political reasons,” Judge Gosavi said.
On December 9, Shah’s lawyers S V Raju and Mitesh Amin had argued that the CBI “deliberately and mischievously” connected the alleged fake encounter case of Sohrabuddin with that of eyewitness Prajapati’s to falsely implicate Shah and “serve their political masters” at that particular time.
According to the CBI, gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife Kauser Bi were abducted by Gujarat’s Anti-Terrorism Squad when they were on way from Hyderabad to Sangli in Maharashtra and killed in an alleged fake encounter near Gandhinagar in November 2005. Prajapati, a key witness in the alleged fake encounter, was killed by police at Chapri village, Banaskantha district of Gujarat, in December 2006.
CBI lawyer B P Raju had alleged that the Gujarat police had nabbed Sohrabuddin as he had exposed an extortion racket involving senior Gujarat police officials. The court, however, said Sohrabuddin was accused in many cases and he was an absconding accused. There was reason for Gujarat and Rajasthan police to nab him.
Earlier, the CBI had backed its case against Shah by submitting call data records (CDR) of Shah, which alleged that he was in constant contact with the other accused during the time of the encounter. One of the persons Shah was in contact with during the crucial days around the encounter was S Rajkumar Pandian, Superintendent of Police, ATS, Ahmedabad.
The court on Tuesday, however, took cognizance of the fact that Shah was then the home minister of Gujarat and hence as the head of the security portfolio of the state, the calls came under his line of duty. “It is undisputed that S Rajkumar Pandian was Superintendent of Police, ATS of Ahemdabad. One cannot negate the fact the anti-terrorism squad is specially to prevent the acts of the terrorist groups. Terrorist activities have increased all over the world. In such a situation, home minister of a particular state interacting directly with officers working at ground level is not a matter of surprise, unnatural or unusual. Moreover, the explanation that it was his style of functioning is plausible and can be considered,” the judge said.
Moroever, the judge said, “While observing that the complicity of the applicant accused is not established through actual conversations, the CBI did not collect all CDR and restricted their investigation to certain call records without the content of the calls.”
Shah claimed the CBI only picked his call details details between November 2005 and December 2006, indicating an insufficient probe. Shah said the CBI should have analysed his call details at least two years before and two years after the offence to draw a conclusion. According to the CBI, 38 calls were exchanged between Shah and D G Vanzara and 343 between Shah and Pandian that revealed an “unnatural, uncommon and not part of common, regular and routine course of official business”.
The judge said the CBI also relied on the statements of the complainant and Sohrabuddin’s brother Rubabuddin Sheikh, Naimuddin Sheikh and others, but the statements do not implicate Shah in the case.
Pointing to the statements of Patel brothers, builders Dashrath and Raman, the judge said, “When one peruses all the three statements of Patel brothers, I found substance in the argument that all the facts are similar. It is not possible that the witness gives same verbatim of statements. This opposes common sense and the court cannot ignore this strange circumstance and casts a doubt.”
Rubabuddin, who stormed out of the court, said he was was upset by the discharge order. He told The Indian Express that he would appeal in the High Court and then the Supreme Court, if needed. “We will appeal against the the judge as well and scrutinize his assets. We have also written to the Chief Justice regarding the sudden death of the earlier judge presiding over the case,” he said.
Arguing Shah’s case on December 9, S V Raju had told the court, “It is a conspiracy hatched by the Indian National Congress. They wanted to remove the Gujarat government as they could not do anything with the ballot. Shah was falsely implicated by using CBI.” Stating that Shah is a victim of “political vendetta”, he had said CBI’s role was only aimed to see Shah’s arrest and defaming BJP as well as the Gujarat government by filing a separate chargesheet on September 4, 2012.