The special court hearing the alleged fake encounters case of Sohrabuddin Shaikh and Tulsiram Prajapati and the alleged murder of Shaikh’s wife, Kausar Bi, is likely to give its judgment against the 22 accused facing trial on December 21.
Earlier this week, Special Judge S J Sharma had reserved the case for judgment after the prosecution and accused completed final arguments. On Friday, he said he will need two weeks to give the judgment. If it is not completed by December 21, the judgment will be pronounced the following week, the Special Judge said. The trial began over a year ago, in November 2017, and a total of 210 witnesses have been examined, of whom 92 turned hostile.
On November 29, 2017, when the first witness was to depose, the special court had restrained the media from publication of any proceedings of the case, stating that the matter “appears sensational” and had also cited “security problem”. A group of nine journalists had then approached the Bombay High Court against the special court’s order stating that it was “bad in law” and had failed to articulate what “exceptional circumstances” had necessitated such an order.
On January 24, Justice Revati Mohite Dere set aside the special court’s order observing that the “press is the most powerful watchdog of the society” and the public had a right to know what is happening in the case. By the time the ban was lifted, the court had examined 40 witnesses, including key eyewitnesses, 28 of whom did not support the prosecution. Of the nearly 700 witnesses included in all chargesheets filed in the case, the prosecution examined 210, with those related to the discharged accused, left out.
The case dates back to 23 November, 2005, when wanted criminal Shaikh, along with his wife, Kausar Bi and associate Prajapati, were allegedly abducted from a luxury bus while they were on their way to Sangli, Maharashtra, from Hyderabad. The CBI claims that the conspiracy included policemen from three states-Gujarat, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh.
While Shaikh and Kausar Bi were taken to Gujarat, Prajapati was shown to have been arrested from Bhilwara in Rajasthan on November 26, 2005. The CBI claimed that the accused policemen had said that Shaikh was a member of the terrorist organisation, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and was killed in an encounter on November 26, 2005, when he was in Gujarat to kill a “big political leader”. Shaikh’s brother, Rubabuddin, sent a letter to the Chief Justice of India in 2006, seeking an inquiry into the encounter claiming that it was staged.
In 2006, based on the apex court’s directions, when a preliminary inquiry was constituted in the case, the then Gujarat policeman VL Solanki sought to examine Prajapati, claiming that he was a witness to Shaikh’s abduction. Solanki had requested permission to examine Prajapati on December 18, 2006, but 10 days later, on December 28, Prajapati was killed in a staged encounter in Gujarat, the CBI claims.
Prajapati’s mother Narmadabai also filed a petition before the Supreme Court seeking an inquiry.
Based on the apex court’s directions, the Gujarat CID began investigating the case in 2007 and claimed that the encounters were fake. It also said that Kausar Bi had been subsequently murdered and her body disposed of in Illol in Gujarat. Her body was never found. The CBI took over the case in 2010 and subsequently, it was transferred to Mumbai for a fair trial on the directions of the Supreme Court. Till then, 38 accused had been booked in the case, including IPS officers and ministers from Gujarat, Rajasthan, including current BJP president Amit Shah.
Sixteen of the 38, including all IPS officers and ministers, along with Shah, were discharged on various grounds, including lack of evidence and lack of sanction to prosecute them. Most were discharged between 2014 and 2017 with 22 facing trial – 21 junior-rung policemen and a farmhouse owner.
During the trial, the policemen, who the prosecution claimed were involved in Shaikh’s alleged fake encounter, denied that they were present at the spot. This includes Rajasthan police inspector Abdul Rehman, who denied that he had given a written complaint that he had shot at Shaikh in self-defence. Rehman, also claimed before the court that he was pressured into calling the encounter genuine. The other policemen who were involved in the Prajapati encounter, said they had shot at him in “self-defence”.
During the final arguments last week, the court had raised many lacunae in the prosecution case, including stating that whether there was evidence to show that Prajapati had travelled with Shaikh and Kausar Bi on the bus. Chief investigating officer Amitabh Thakur also told the court during his deposition that the current set of accused did not have a motive to carry out the killings.
Special Public Prosecutor BP Raju, who concluded his final arguments within two hours on Monday, also told the court that he had not been able to link many chains in circumstances, claiming that it was because of delay in the probe, hostile witnesses and the 12-year-long gap between the incident and the depositions.
Raju, however, claimed that the testimonies of those declared hostile cannot be discarded altogether.
The prosecution has not sought for any action under perjury law to be taken against those whose statements were recorded under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, but did not support their case and were declared hostile.