The Gujarat High court on Thursday handed the Ishrat Jahan encounter case to central agency CBI, ending the state police's role in the probe.
The order, perceived to be an embarrassment to the Narendra Modi government – since his police had justified the killings – comes 10 days after a special investigation team concluded the encounter was staged. The court Thursday directed SIT member Satish Verma, who spearheaded the SIT investigation, to assist the CBI in its probe.
Ruling out handing over the sensitive case to the Gujarat Police, the National Investigating Agency (NIA) and the SIT, the Bench listed out a set of reasons for its mandate in favour of the CBI.
The court enumerated 12 reasons why the case should not be given to the state police.
In a clear reference to the trust deficit in Gujarat Police, the court said, “The agency to probe the case must instill confidence and should have credibility among the victims,
therefore we find it fit not to assign the case to the state police.”
The court also ruled out assigning the investigations to the SIT citing difference of opinion among its members and majority of them being not willing to continue with the probe as the reason for not handing over the responsibility to it.
The HC did not give its mandate to the NIA, citing the issues concerning its jurisdiction and competence, besides limited scope for cases that it can take up. The division bench of justices Jayant Patel and Abhilasha
Kumari directed an officer of the deputy inspector general rank would head the investigations beginning with the filing of a fresh FIR.
The court also said the SIT should hand all papers related to the case to the CBI within two weeks. The present SIT chief R R Verma should be the complainant in the new FIR to be filed.
The CBI will also probe the original FIR where the state police had justified the killings of Ishrat and three others, the court ruled.
After the verdict, SIT chief R R Verma said, “The Honourable High Court of Gujarat had given a task to the SIT to find out whether the encounter was genuine or not. The SIT has done its work with full responsibility and come out with the conclusion that has been pronounced by the court. The court has directed further investigation to be done by the CBI and that shall be honoured.”
Verma further said, “The court has also directed the chairman of SIT to file an FIR with CBI and that shall be the next responsibility we are going to discharge.”
“We could not have asked for a better judgement,” Ishrat's mother Shamima Kausar's lawyer Vrinda Grover said.
In a setback to the Narendra Modi government on November 21, the special investigation team probing the 2004 Ishrat Jahan case concluded the college girl was killed in a fake encounter, prompting the Gujarat High Court to order a fresh FIR against the accused policemen in the case.
The SIT in its report said Ishrat and three others were killed prior to the encounter date of June 15, 2004.
A division bench of Justice Jayant Patel and Justice Abhilasha Kumari ordered that a separate FIR under Section 302 (punishment for murder) should be filed in the concerned police station against those police officers who were involved in the shootout.
The SIT had submitted its final report in the High Court regarding their findings on the encounter on November 18.
The court had said, “The probe agency would need to find out who played the key role in the encounter, what was the motive and what was the actual time of the death of the four people.”
The SIT team, which investigated the case, was headed by R R Verma, while the other two members of the team are IPS officer Mohan Jha and Satish Verma.
Ishrat, a 19-year-old college girl, along with Javed Sheikh alias Pranesh Pillai, Amjad Ali Rana and Zeeshan Johar, was killed in a shootout by Ahmedabad Crime Branch on June 15, 2004.
The Crime Branch had claimed the four were LeT members on a mission to kill Chief Minister Modi.
A judicial inquiry report by metropolitan magistrate S P Tamang submitted on September 7, 2009 in the encounter case had also said the shootout was fake and executed in cold blood by police officials for their own benefit.
The probe in the sensational case was supervised directly by the Gujarat High Court which constituted the SIT last year to investigate the genuineness of the encounter after petitions filed by Ishrat's mother Shamima Kausar and Gopinath Pillai, father of victim Javed Sheikh alias Pranesh Pillai.
Those accused in the case include then JCP (crime branch) P P Pande, suspended DIG D G Vanzara, then ACP G L Singhal and ACP N K Amin – all IPS officers. There were 21 policemen, including the IPS officers, involved in the encounter.
Vanzara and Amin are also accused in the Soharabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case and the murder of Sheikh's wife Kausar Bi. They are at present behind bars.