In what began as criminal proceedings against 38 accused, including ministers and police officers from Gujarat and Rajasthan, into the alleged fake encounters of Sohrabuddin Shaikh, his wife Kausarbi in 2005 and his associate Tulsiram Prajapati in 2006, finally only 22 accused stood trial.
The CBI, which took over the probe from the Gujarat CID in 2010 following a Supreme Court order, had named 38 accused, including then Gujarat MoS (home) Amit Shah, Rajasthan home minister Gulab Chand Kataria and senior IPS officers.
Between 2014 and 2017, however, the trial court discharged 15 accused, including Shah, Kataria and all IPS officers, except Vipul Aggarwal. While some were discharged due to lack of evidence, the trial court also dropped charges against some for lack of sanction to prosecute them.
On Monday, as the Bombay High Court granted discharge to Aggarwal, whose plea was rejected twice by the trial court, 16 of the 38 first named as accused by the CBI will no longer face trial in the case.
The 22 currently on trial include inspectors, assistant inspectors, sub-inspectors and constables from Rajasthan, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. They are facing allegations of conspiracy.
In 2010, when the CBI began investigation into the case, it had claimed that in 2005, Sohrabuddin, a wanted criminal, was involved in extorting marble traders in Rajasthan’s Udaipur. It added that the traders approached some political leaders and police officers from Rajasthan and Gujarat, who together entered into a criminal conspiracy to eliminate Sohrabuddin.
The trial was shifted to Mumbai from Ahmedabad in 2012, following a Supreme Court order after the CBI urged the court to transfer the case out of Gujarat. Since then, four judges had heard the matter.
Between March 2012 and June 2012, J T Utpat heard the case before being succeeded by Judge B H Loya, who heard the case from June 2014 till his death in December 2014. His successor Madan Gosavi heard the case till June 2017, discharging accused, including Shah. The case is currently being heard by Special Judge S J Sharma, who in 2017 had discharged three accused, including former Gujarat DIG D G Vanzara and IPS officer Dinesh M N.
The trial in the case against the remaining 22 began in November last year and has since seen the examination of 176 witnesses. Of them, 91 did not support the prosecution case and were declared hostile.
On November 29, 2017 when the first witness was to be examined, the trial court gagged the media from reporting on the case on a plea made by the defence advocates. Nine journalists appealed against the order before the HC, which set aside the order on January 24. Justice Revati Mohite-Dere, who set aside the gag order and was initially hearing the bunch of discharge applications — decided by Justice A M Badar on Monday — was transferred in February.
In the two months while the gag order was in place, the trial court had examined 40 witnesses, declaring 27 hostile, including Sohrabuddin’s co-passengers in a luxury bus and two policemen.
The prosecution had alleged that Sohrabuddin, Kausarbi and Tulsiram were abducted from a luxury bus on November 23, 2005 while they were on way to Sangli in Maharashtra from Hyderabad. The CBI claimed that while Sohrabuddin was killed in a staged encounter on November 25, 2005, Kausarbi was killed and Tulsiram was shown arrested in Rajasthan, the next day.
To support this claim, the CBI had examined the two policemen who allegedly accompanied the accused police officers for the abduction and subsequent encounter. It had also recorded the statements of the bus driver and co-passengers to prove that the abduction did take place. None of these witnesses supported the CBI case.
Three passengers said that they had slept through the journey. Also, on the disposal of Kausarbi’s body, the witnesses, including the operators of crane and tempo services, did not support the prosecution case. The two policemen, who the CBI claimed had witnessed the crime, said that no such incident had taken place.
The CBI could not prove Tulsiram’s presence in the bus either. “Not a single witness… is there to vouch for the presence of Tulsiram in Hyderabad during the relevant period,” the HC said on Monday.
The CBI had said that after the abduction, Tulsiram was shown arrested in Bhilwara on November 26, 2005 from a rented house where he was staying by using a false name, Sameer. This claim also was contradicted. The owners of the rented house claimed that Tulsiram was arrested on November 29 and over 15 days before his arrest, he was in the house. This contradicts CBI’s claim of him being abducted along with Sohrabuddin and Kausarbi.
Policemen from Rajasthan, who had given statements before the magistrate, also went back on their claims, stating that they were threatened into giving false statements by the agency. Further, the CBI had claimed that Tulsiram, during his stay in Udaipur Central Jail, had written to various authorities, including the National Human Rights Commission, stating that his life is in danger as he had witnessed the abduction of Sohrabuddin and Kausarbi. To prove this, the CBI brought before the court witnesses, including Tulsiram’s lawyers, his jail inmates and his nephew, Kundan.
Some claimed that Tulsiram had told them about the threat but there were contradictions as well. For instance, one inmate said that Tulsiram had told him about wanting to escape from prison. The accused policemen had claimed that while returning to Udaipur from a court hearing in Ahmedabad, Tulsiram had escaped from a train and was killed on December 2006 in an encounter. The court is yet to examine 34 investigating officers, including those from Gujarat CID and CBI. The depositions are expected to commence from Tuesday.
The deposition of Sohrabuddin’s brothers Nayabuddin, Shahnawazuddin and Rubabuddin, who had first filed a plea in SC for a probe into the encounter and also challenged the discharge of three policemen in HC last year, is also yet to be recorded. The three have not come before the court despite summons and warrants. Further, the court on Monday issued a non-bailable warrant against Narmadabai, Tulsiram’s mother, for non-appearance as a witness.