Let Sohrabuddin Case be an Eye-Opener for the CBI !


                                                                              By: Parmanand Pandey, Advocate, Supreme Court (Secretary General, IPC)

      A high-profile criminal case that has been bedevilling the career of many politicians and police personnel have been finally decided by a CBI court in Mumbai, which has acquitted all accused persons. Although the title of the case is ‘Central Bureau of Investigation versus Dahyaji Goharji Vanjara and others’, yet it has been known more as the Sohrabuddin encounter case. There is an oft-repeated legal phrase in criminal justice system that ‘let a hundred guilty be acquitted, but not one innocent should be convicted’. This phrase is more dependent on the fact that the accused can be punished only when the guilt is proved beyond all reasonable doubts, while in other civil laws the principle of ‘preponderance of probabilities’ suffices for the dispensation of justice.

However, the acquittal of all 22-remaining accused in the Sohrabuddin encounter case has compelled every right-thinking person that there is something seriously wrong with our investigating agencies because many a time they either implicate the innocents at the instance of some high ups in which they subsequently find an uphill task to collect the clinching proof against them resulting into their acquittals. By the time the accused persons are acquitted many years of their precious life is lost. Sometimes they deliberately botch up the investigation, for the host of reasons, to get the guilty persons acquitted. Hence, their honesty has, more often, not been above board. This attitude of the investigating agencies has led to the huge loss in their credibility.

It is not for nothing that the former Chief Justice of India Rajendra Mal Lodha had once annoyingly remarked about the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) as the ‘caged parrot’. The CBI judge SJ Sharma who delivered the judgement in the Sohrabuddin case has also regretted that   ‘In my discussion, I have also noted the negligence of the CBI towards the material part of the investigation which clearly indicating that they hurriedly completed the investigation either by using replica of the earlier recorded investigation and have implicated the police personnel who had not at all knowledge of any conspiracy rather they appeared innocent.’ That is why all accused have been acquitted for lack of evidence against them.

The CBI was trying 22 accused in 2005 Sohrabuddin Sheikh and 2006 Tulsiram Prajapati encounter cases and on the charge of killing Sheikh’s wife Kausar Bi. The judge also noted that 92 prosecution witnesses out of the 210 examined had turned hostile. The case, therefore, rested on circumstantial evidence and hearsay, and as a result, the chain of events was not complete enough to believe that the encounter was the result of a criminal conspiracy. The judge said though Sheikh and others were killed yet ‘going by the evidence on record, the court could not conclude that the present accused persons could be questioned or held accountable for those deaths.

While pronouncing the judgment, the judge also spoke about former DIG D.G. Vanzara, who had already been discharged from the case in August 2017, it was improbable that he could have any knowledge of the alleged conspiracy. The CBI’s case was that it was Vanzara who called Gujarat police officer Ashish Pandya, who was on leave at that time, to lead Prajapati’s encounter. However, according to the judge, the CBI could not bring on record any substantial piece of evidence like phone records to prove that Vanzara called Pandya during this period. This case assumed much significance because of the present BJP president Amit Shah, former Rajasthan Home Minister Gulabchand Kataria, former Gujarat Police Chief PC Pande, Additional Director-General of police Geetha Johri, Gujarat police officer Abhay Chudasama, Gujarat police official N.K. Amin, Yashpal Chudasama and Ajay Patel (both senior office-bearers at the Ahmedabad District Cooperative Bank), Gujarat IPS officer Rajkumar Pandiyan and Andra Pradesh cadre IPS official N. Balasubramanyam, were implicated in the case but they were discharged before the commencement of the trial. Altogether 22 accused had faced trial. Of them, only one, Jeerawala, the owner of Arham farmhouse, was a civilian. All the police personnel are junior officers and constables. Nobody thinks about these junior police personnel, who have practically through the hell and humiliation during the more than a decade.

The prosecution’s case was that the Gujarat police had abducted Sheikh, a gangster, his wife Kausar Bi and his aide Prajapati from a bus when the trio was on their way to Sangli in Maharashtra from Hyderabad on the night of November 22, 2005. Sheikh was killed in an alleged fake encounter on November 26, 2005, near Ahmedabad. His wife was killed three days later, and her body was disposed of. It claimed that a year later, on December 27, 2006, the Gujarat and Rajasthan police forces had shot Prajapati dead on the Gujarat-Rajasthan border. While delivering the 358 page judgement, the judge also made a wry comment on the criminal justice system by saying that he felt sorry for the families of the three persons who lost their lives but the courts work on evidence and the testimony of witnesses and in this case, not enough material was brought on record to prove the case against the accused.

Upon turning the witnesses’ hostile, the Judge said that ‘what could have prosecution done? It couldn’t have forced them not to turn hostile. Therefore, when this court ultimately went through all the evidence and testimonies on record, it concluded that no case of conspiracy could be established.’ The judge also expressed disbelief in the theory that Tulsiram Prajapati was the third person who was abducted along with Sheikh and his wife from a luxury bus and that he was witness to the abduction of Sheikh and Kausar Bi. Since the court discarded this theory, the judge also disbelieved that Prajapati was killed in a fake encounter to eliminate the eyewitness in Sheikh’s case. Commenting on the working of the CBI, the judge said that, “I have no hesitation in recording that a premier investigating agency like CBI had before it a premeditated theory and a script intended to anyhow implicate political leaders. And the agency thereafter merely did what was required to reach that goal rather than conducting an investigation in accordance with law.”

It is worthwhile to know who were Sohrabuddin Sheikh, Kanser Bi and Tulsiram Prajapati? The police version is that Sheikh was an associate of Lashkar-e-Toiba, who was planning to assassinate the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Kauser Bi was his wife and both were travelling from Hyderabad to Sangli (Maharashtra) in a bus when they were killed in a police encounter. According to Rubabbuddin, the brother of Sohrabuddin, who had filed the complaints and made petitions before various courts, the whereabouts of Kauser Bi was not known for several months and then he approached the Supreme Court, seeking an investigation into the death of his brother. He also filed a habeas corpus petition, seeking production of his disappeared sister-in-law, Kauser Bi. It was also alleged that there was a third person with them and he was the none else but Tulsiram Prajapathi.

There was a hue and cry over the killing of trio and the opposition parties and Human Rights activists worked overtime to bring a bad name to Narendra Modi, the then Chief Minister of Gujarat. On their pleas and petitions, the Supreme Court then ordered for the investigation of the case by the CBI. The CBI filed the Charge-sheet framing the then Gujarat Home Minister Amit Shah making him the lynchpin of the conspiracy and he was also arrested in 2010. The CBI also sought for transfer of the trial of the case outside Gujarat, which was also allowed by the Supreme Court.

It is now a proven fact, that Sohrabuddin was an outlaw and was having connections with Lasker-e-Taiba and Pakistan intelligence agency ISI. He and Tulsiram Prajapati were extorting protection money from marble factories of Gujarat and Rajasthan. This was the reason that people were happier with their killings than doubting over the methods of their killings by the Police. Sohrabuddin was also said to have links with underworld criminals Sharifkhan Pathan, Abdul Latif, Rasool Parti and Brajesh Singh, who were all members and associates of India’s largest organized crime network and underworld mafia operated by Dawood Ibrahim. During investigations, before he was arrested, the Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) of Gujarat had found 40 AK-47 assault rifles from his village residence in Madhya Pradesh. There were some 60 criminal cases pending against him. This was yet another reason that human right activist did not get even an iota of public support.

The CBI Judge has also made some caustic comments by saying that the pressure was brought to bear upon the CBI by some politicians to implicate some people. This case reinforces that there is a crying need to overhaul the methodology of the investigation by the police so that innocent people may not have to suffer and guilty do not go unpunished. The aim, after all, is that justice should not be denied by delaying it.

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