The Bombay High Court upheld Monday the discharge granted to former Gujarat ATS chief D G Vanzara and four other officers from the Rajasthan and Gujarat police by a trial court in the alleged fake encounter case of suspected gangster Sohrabuddin Shaikh, his wife and aide.
The court dismissed the five revision pleas filed by Sohrabuddin Shaikh's brother Rubabuddin and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) challenging their discharge, saying they were devoid of merit.
Justice A M Badar also granted relief to Gujarat-cadre IPS officer Vipul Aggarwal and allowed his discharge application in the case which relates to alleged fake encounter of Sohrabuddin Shaikh, his wife Kausar Bi and their aide Tulsiram Prajapati in 2005-2006.
The officers who now stand discharged in the case are Vanzara, Gujarat police's Rajkumar Pandian, N K Amin, and Aggarwal, and Rajasthan Police's Dinesh M N and Dalpat Singh Rathod.
Rubabuddin had challenged the discharge granted to Dinesh, Pandian and Vanzara. The remaining two revision pleas were filed by the CBI, challenging the discharge granted to Amin and Rathod.
The HC took note of the arguments of the defence team comprising senior lawyers Mahesh Jethmalani, Shirish Gupte, Raja Thakare and Niranjan Mundargi, who had claimed the CBI had planted evidence and fabricated facts to suit its case.
In his verdict, Justice Badar held the trial court was justified in discharging the officials for want of evidence, and absence of any material.
He also noted that the prosecuting agencies had failed to get prior government sanction before charging most of the officers concerned in the case.
Therefore, the trial court was justified in dropping the case against them on the ground of want of prior prosecution sanction.
The CBI, through Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh and advocate Sandesh Patil, and Rubabuddin Shaikh through his lawyer Gautam Tiwari, had argued that the trial court had erred in discharging the officials.
They had argued that the officials should at least have been made to stand trial (discharge is a pre-trial process based on evidence on record).
On July 16, Justice Badar had reserved the verdict on all the six pleas.
Sohrabuddin Shaikh and Prajapati were alleged extortionists who were taking money from marble traders in Rajasthan and Gujarat, the CBI had told the HC.
They used to do some extortion work for the local police, however, the relationship turned sour, and the Gujarat police decided to have them out of the way, the CBI's chargesheet said.
As per the CBI, in November 2005, when Sohrabuddin Shaikh and his wife Kauser Bi were travelling by bus from Hyderabad to Sangli in Maharashtra, they were stopped by the Gujarat and Rajasthan Police, abducted and he was shot dead near Gandhinagar.
Kausar Bi was killed a few days later and the body was burnt to dispose of the evidence, it said.
At the time of the encounter, the police had claimed Sohrabuddin Shaikh had terror links.
Prajapati was shot dead in another staged encounter in December 2006 by a team of the Rajasthan Police at the behest of the same group of Gujarat and Rajasthan officials, the Central agency had said in its chargesheet.
The police, however, had claimed Prajapati had been trying to escape from custody while being taken back to Ahmedabad from Udaipur in a train following a hearing in another case in Rajasthan.
The Gujarat CID that was probing the cases claimed all killings were part of staged encounters.
Among the first arrests made by the CID in the case were of Deputy Inspector General Vanzara and Rajasthan Police officer Dinesh.
The probe authority obtained phone call records that it claimed revealed frequent phone calls between Vanzara, Dinesh, superintendents of police Rajkumar Pandian, and Vipul Kumar and BJP president Amit Shah, who was the then Gujarat Minister of State for Home.
In 2010, the CBI took over the probe, claimed these were fake encounters, and charged the same set of persons who had earlier been booked by the Gujarat CID.
In July 2010, the CBI arrested Shah in the case. He was granted bail by the Gujarat HC in October that year.
The police officials arrested in the case had been serving jail terms since 2007 and were granted bail after each of them spent five to seven years in judicial custody.
In 2012, the case was transferred to Mumbai from Gujarat by the Supreme Court that subsequently also tagged all the three encounter cases together.
In December 2014, a special CBI court in Mumbai absolved Shah of all charges and discharged him from the case, holding that the frequent call records were poor evidence.
Subsequently, between August 2016 and September 2017, the special court also discharged 14 others, including Vanzara, Dinesh, Pandian, Amin and Rathod.
The special court only rejected Aggarwal's plea.
However, he was granted relief Monday by the HC.
Justice Badar had conducted detailed daily hearings for about two weeks in July on the five revision pleas and the petition filed by Aggarwal.