A special CBI court Friday acquitted all 22 accused in the alleged fake encounter killings of gangster Sohrabuddin Shaikh, his wife Kausar Bi and his associate Tulsiram Prajapati more than a decade ago, saying the evidence brought before the court could not establish the role of any accused in the case.
Delivering his last judgment before he retires on December 31, special judge S J Sharma said he felt “helpless” and “extremely sorry” for the families of the three victims. He said though three investigation agencies probed the case — the Gujarat ATS, CID and CBI — the evidence before the court was “not satisfactory” to establish the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt.
The 22 acquitted include 21 serving and retired police personnel from Rajasthan, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. The trial, which lasted over a year, saw 210 witnesses depose, including 92 declared hostile. A detailed copy of the judgment will be made available next week. Shaikh’s brother Rubabuddin, who was present in court, said he was disappointed at the verdict and would appeal against it in the Supreme Court. Special public prosecutor B P Raju said the CBI would decide on an appeal before the Bombay High Court after getting a copy of the judgment.
Former IPS officer D G Vanzara, an accused discharged earlier, tweeted: “Bombay Court Judgement in #Sohrabuddin Case, acquitting all 22 Police Officers has vindicated my Stand that Our Encounters were Genuine: We were wrongly framed for performing our Duties. We became Victims of Political Cross Firing between the then Occupants of Delhi & Gandhinagar.”
The court said that while Sohrabuddin’s death was “homicidal”, there was no evidence to link the accused to the murder. It said that the claim by the accused that Tulsiram was killed in a police encounter was “substantiated”. Between 2014 and 2018, 16 accused were discharged from the case. These included senior IPS officers, former Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria and BJP president Amit Shah.
According to CBI, Sohrabuddin, Kausar Bi and Tulsiram were abducted from a luxury bus while they were on their way to Sangli in Maharashtra from Hyderabad on November 23, 2005. The prosecution claimed that while Sohrabuddin and Kausar Bi were taken to farmhouses in Gujarat and detained illegally, Tulsiram’s arrest was shown three days later from a house in Bhilwara in Rajasthan.
The CBI claimed that Sohrabuddin was shown to have been killed in a staged encounter on November 26, 2005 in Ahmedabad, with the accused policemen claiming that he had links with terrorist organisations and that he was in the city to kill “a big political leader”. Kausar Bi, too, was killed and her body disposed on November 29, 2005. A year later, on December 28, 2006, Tulsiram was also shown to have been killed in a staged encounter in Gujarat, with the accused claiming that he had escaped from a train while being taken to Udaipur jail after a court hearing in Ahmedabad.
The CBI claimed that this account was created by the accused who wanted to kill Tulsiram since he had witnessed the abduction of Sohrabuddin. Investigators inquiring into the Sohrabuddin encounter, based on orders from Supreme Court in 2006, were planning to record his statement. “The death of Sohrabuddin is homicidal… that is certain. He died due to bullet injuries, that is established from the post-mortem report and the forensic reports. But when I went through the evidence, whether particularly the accused persons said to be present at the alleged place of incident are the authors of the crime, whether they are answerable, whether they were even present at the spot, no substantial evidence is found regarding that,” the court said.
During the trial, Rajasthan policeman Abdul Rehman, who the prosecution claimed had given a complaint that he fired at Sohrabuddin in self-defence, denied that it was his complaint. On the alleged encounter killing of Tulsiram, the court said that while the prosecution had claimed that the accused persons had never travelled with him on the train from Ahmedabad to Udaipur and that they had made up a story about his escape, this theory was proved wrong.
The court said that in fact the defence’s claim that he was killed in an encounter was “substantiated”, based on evidence including a report of injuries on Gujarat policeman Ashish Pandya, who had shot at Tulsiram and also suffered an injury. The CBI had claimed that this injury was self-inflicted. Judge Sharma said the CBI claim that Pandya was called from his holiday on instructions of Vanzara was not proved. “Vanzara sahab aur Ashish Pandya ki baat hui thi and the purpose of their conversation was the conspiracy to kill Tulsiram, was not proved,” he said.
A crucial part of the probe that Tulsiram was the third person on the bus, and had witnessed the abduction and was therefore killed in a staged encounter, was also not proved, the court said. Statements of co-inmates of Tulsiram, who said that he had told them about the abduction, was described as “hearsay” by the court. The CBI claimed that Tulsiram had also written to various local authorities as well as the National Human Rights Commission. “The owners of the room where Tulsiram was staying on rent in Rajasthan also said in their deposition that he was home for over 15 days before his arrest, which shows that he was not on the bus,” the court said.
On another accused, CID investigator Ramanbhai Patel, the court said there was no evidence to show he had pressured the witnesses or manipulated evidence. On farmhouse owner Rajendra Jirawala and other accused, the court said that there was no evidence. The acquitted accused include Gujarat police personnel M L Parmar, N H Dabhi, Balkrishna Chaubey, Ajaykumar Parmar, Santaram Sharma, Naresh Chauhan, Vijay Kumar Rathod, Ashish Pandya, Jethusingh Solanki, Kanjibhai Kutchi, Vinodkumar Limbachiya, Kiransinh Chauhan, Karan Sinh Sisodiya, Ramanbhai Patel, Rajasthan policemen Abdul Rehman, Himanshu Singh Rajawat, Shyam Singh Charan, Andhra police officer Ghattamaneni Rao and farmhouse owner Rajendra Jirawala.
The court said that the prosecution could not be blamed for witnesses turning hostile as it had made all efforts to bring material witnesses on record. Earlier in the day, the special court rejected the pleas filed by two witnesses, Gujarat-based businessman Mahendra Zala and Sohrabuddin’s gang member Azam Khan, who had sought to be re-examined and had blamed the prosecution of “mismanagement”. The court said the pleas were not “tenable”.