A KEY witness in the Sohrabuddin Shaikh alleged fake encounter case claimed on Saturday that Sohrabuddin had told him about former Gujarat IPS officer D G Vanzara having given a contract to kill Haren Pandya, senior BJP leader and former Gujarat minister, who was murdered in 2003.
The witness, Azam Khan, an associate of Sohrabuddin and Tulsiram Prajapati, also said that while he had told the CBI investigator about it in 2010, the officer had refused to record it as part of his statement.
“During discussion with Sohrabuddin, he told me that he, along with Naeem Khan and Shahid Rampuri, got the contract to kill Home Minister Haren Pandya of Gujarat and they killed him. I felt sad and I told Sohrabuddin that they have killed a good person. Sohrabuddin told me that the contract was given to him by Vanzara,” Khan told the court during his examination-in-chief. Khan also said that Sohrabuddin had told him “upar se yeh kaam diya tha (the work was given from above).”
Vanzara, who was named accused number 1 in the alleged fake encounter cases, was discharged by the trial court on August 1, 2017. The trial court’s order, which was not challenged by the CBI, but by Sohrabuddin’s brother Rubabuddin, was upheld by the Bombay High Court in September. During further cross-examination, when Khan was asked why these facts were not mentioned in his statements recorded by the CBI, he said he had told the CBI officer, N S Raju. “I had told the CBI officer that Haren Pandya’s murder was done by Tulsiram Prajapati and one boy at the instance of Sohrabuddin. When I told him (Raju) about Haren Pandya, ‘unhone bola naye bakhede mey mat dalo (don’t involve me in new confusion),” the witness said in court.
He also said that Pandya had helped in bringing communities together after the violence in the state in 2002 and that he had told Sohrabuddin he should not have been killed. “I felt bad and made up my mind to leave the company of Sohrabuddin,” Khan told court.
Pandya was shot dead in Ahmedabad on March 26, 2003. In 2007, a trial court in Gujarat had held 12 persons guilty for the murder, sentencing nine of them to life imprisonment. The Gujarat High Court, however, acquitted all of them in 2011. An appeal against the acquittals is pending before the Supreme Court.
Khan, an Udaipur-based gangster, was brought before the court on Saturday under heavy security from Udaipur central jail where he is currently lodged. He had earlier told the court that he was being pressured to give a statement in favour of the accused and that he was falsely implicated in criminal cases. While the CBI had claimed that he was “untraceable” for many months, last month, he was arrested by the Udaipur police. Currently, 22 accused, including Rajasthan and Gujarat policemen, are facing trial for the alleged encounters of Sohrabuddin and Tulsiram Prajapati and the alleged murder of Sohrabuddin’s wife, Kausarbi. Khan also told the court about how he began committing crimes and came in contact with Sohrabuddin. He told the court that Sohrabuddin had gotten in touch with a gangster named Naeem Khan in Hyderabad, as the latter wanted help in contacting gangster Dawood Ibrahim.
He claimed that Sohrabuddin had helped Naeem get in touch with gangster Chhota Shakeel instead. Khan further spoke about how in November 2005, he had heard about the death of Sohrabuddin and within a few days, had met Tulsiram in Udaipur central jail. He claimed that Tulsiram had cried on seeing him and blamed himself for Sohrabuddin’s death.
He said Tulsiram had told him that he was tricked into giving information on Sohrabuddin to policemen, who had claimed “political pressure” to arrest him. “Vanzara and other policemen wanted to arrest Sohrabuddin. He assured Tulsiram that after five-six months, he will be released. But, Tulsiram said that both Sohrabuddin and Kausarbi were killed in a farmhouse in Gujarat,” Khan claimed. Khan further said that due to this, Tulsiram constantly spoke about wanting to kill the policemen, including Vanzara and Chudasama.
Khan said that Tulsiram apprehended being killed due to which they had made a complaint before a court in Ahmedabad. “I last met Tulsiram on 23-24 December, 2006, when I was being taken into custody for some old theft case pending against me, while he was to be taken to Ahmedabad for a court hearing. He had told me that either one of us will be killed,” Khan told the court. According to the CBI, the accused policemen deliberately separated Khan and Tulsiram by seeking the former’s custody in a pending case. The CBI claims that Tulsiram was shown to have escaped from their custody while being taken to Gujarat and subsequently, shown to have been killed in an encounter.
Khan, who had given multiple statements to the CBI and also before a magistrate, had named other policemen and spoken about their alleged connection with Sohrabuddin. On Saturday, however, Khan did not refer to those facts in his statement.