Ishrat case hots up in Gujarat

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Special Investigation Team appointed by Gujarat High Court to probe sensational Ishrat Jahan Encounter case has issued summons to 12 police officers. These officers are associated with the Ishrat encounter of 2004. The summons has sent shockwaves down police personnel and officers up to the level of Additional DGP. 13 police officers had moved the High Court earlier this week for a stay on any action by SIT chief Satish Verma, claiming that he would take vindictive action. However, the HC did not grant a stay.

The officers who have been issued summons are the then police commissioner K R Kaushik, Joint Police Commissioner P P Pande, JPC D G Vanzara (he is in jail in Sohrabuddin case), DCP G L Singhal, ACP N K Amin (he is in jail in Sohrabuddin case), PI crime branch Tarun Barot, and inspectors K M Vaghela, J G Parmar, SP Agrawal, D S Goswami and RI Patel.

Satish Verma was given charge of the SIT by Gujarat High Court after the transfer of Karnail Singh. Gujarat High Court has taken a serious view of the role of Gujarat government and has observed that it was trying to hamper and hinder investigations.

It has also issued contempt notice to Additional Chief Secretary Home for delay in responding to the HC directive to transfer three police officers who were interfering in the working of the SIT. These officers were P P Pande, G L Singhal and Tarun Barot.Close on the heels of Sanjiv Sharma's affidavit against CM Naerendra Modi of Gujarat in the Apex court, the cracks in Gujarat IPS officers are on surface as 14 Gujarat police personnel have pleaded before Gujarat High Court that they do not have faith in investigations into the case by the Special Investigation Team headed by Satish Verma an IPS of Gujarat cadre. They want a probe either by CBI or police officer who does not belong to Gujarat police. Many people blame the Narendra Modi government for this killing and strongly believe that Modi played a pivotal role in it. The Gujarat police have always been suspected of connivance with political entities that have religious and anti-Semitic features. These suspicions were further strengthened when the accused, a 19 year old student Ishrat Jahan, (and the other three suspects) who was killed in a fake encounter, was said to be kidnapped by the police according to the judicial probe by Judge SP Tamag.

The police in Mumbai have also admitted that the deceased had no connection with any terrorist group and were not involved in terrorist activities. According to media sources, the encounters were carried out by the police because of the lure of rewards from the Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

This dramatic development took place after Gujarat High Court handed over the investigations to Satish Verma. Verma a member of the SIT was given this charge, as earlier SIT Chief Karnail Singh had been relieved of the job on his transfer to north east. Though, this is a temporary arrangement until a successor to Karnail Singh is appointed, the 14 cops allegedly involved in the case have asked the High Court to restrain him from taking any action till the new chief of SIT is appointed. Gujarat High Court had taken a very serious view of the way the SIT investigations were being conducted and the role of Gujarat government in hampering the investigations.

During the hearing last week the court had given full powers to Satish Verma while assigning the administration role to other SIT member Mohan Jha. The 14 police personnel fear that Satish Verma would arrest them. Of these 14 officers, there are two officers who were transferred under Gujarat High Court orders.

The Court had asked government to transfer three officers, but government had delayed it. On this issue, Additional Chief Secretary (Home) is facing contempt notice from the Court. G L Singhal and Tarun Barot have moved the High Court along with 12 others. The third officer who has transferred under HC orders is ADGP P P Pande.

Ishrat Jahan, Pranesh Pillai, Amjad Ali Rana and Zeeshan Johar were gunned down by Crime branch in June 2004 on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. Police had claimed that they were operatives of Laskar-e-Taiba and were on a mission to kill Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Investigations were handed over to Special Investigation Team (SIT).

However, The High Court appointed another SIT and these observations were made during the hearing of a case on the basis of proceedings of the second SIT.High Court refused to entertain the urgent petition and now it will be taken up in regular course. Ishrat Jahan, Javed alias Pranesh Pillai, Zeeshan Johar and Amjad Ali Rana were gunned down in 2004 by personnel of the Detection of Crime Branch near Kotarpur Waterworks in Ahmedabad. Ishrat's mother Shamima Kaushar, and Javed's father, Gopinathan Pillai, had filed a petition seeking a CBI probe in the case. However, after passing through many legal twists and turns, the case was finally handed over to a three-member SIT constituted by the Gujarat High Court. Later, IPS officer Satish Verma, disagreed with the other two members of the Ishrat SIT - Karnal Singh and Mohan Jha - and expressed doubts about the genuineness of the encounter and urged the court to allow him to register a fresh FIR in the case.

On April 21, the Gujarat high court gave a free hand to Verma and also gave him the freedom to arrest the accused if there was sufficient evidence against them. This order caused panic among the accused police officers in the case.

Magistrate Tamang had held more than 20 police officers responsible in the case, including then DCP of DCB, DG Vanzara; then ACP of DCB, NK Amin; the head of the DCB PP Pandey; then Ahmedabad police commissioner KR Kaushik; then ACP GL Singhal, apart from other police inspectors and constables. Of these, Vanzara and Amin are already in jail in connection with the Sohrabuddin encounter case.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 May 2011 on page no. 10

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