A special court in Ahmedabad dropped proceedings against three police officials who were part of the team involved in the 2004 Ishrat Jahan encounter case.
Special CBI judge Vipul R. Raval discharged Indian Police Service (IPS) officer GL Singhal, retired cop Tarun Barot and State Reserve Police Force (SRPF) commando Anaju Chaudhari. In 2018, the case against former Ahmedabad police commissioner PP Pandey was dropped. A year later, in 2019 proceedings against Deputy Inspector General (DIG) DG Vanzara and his deputy NK Amin were also dropped. While proceedings against JG Parmar was abated following his death in September 2020.
The special court's decision came on a plea filed by Singhal, Barot and Chaudhari seeking the drop of proceedings against them after the Gujarat government denied sanction to prosecute them. The court dismissed CBI's contention that the refusal of government sanction was made without application of mind.
On June 15, 2004, 19-year-old Mumbra resident Ishrat Jahan along with three others—Javed Shaikh alias Pranesh Pillai, Amjadali Akbarali Rana and Zeeshan Johar were killed in an 'encounter' by the Ahmedabad Crime Branch unit. The police alleged they acted on a tip-off that four lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorists were going to "attempt a suicidal attack" to assassinate Narendra Modi, who was Gujarat Chief Minister at the time.
The encounter triggered a political slugfest between the Bharatiya Janata Party, which was the ruling party at the state, and the Congress which was then in power at the Centre.
In discharging the policemen—which means the judge found no reason to start with the trial against the accused—the 17-year-old saga in the Ishrat Jahan case comes to an end for now. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which was probing the matter can appeal against this order in the high court.
Police officers acted in accordance with their duties
The court further noted that nobody—the CBI or Jahan's mother Shamima Kauser—had objected to its October 2020 observation on how the police officers acted in accordance to their duties. "If the same were not accepted, they would have challenged the earlier order passed by this Court," the judge noted in his order.
"Not only that, but the Central Government and the Government of Gujarat have also believed that the act of the applicants/accused is while discharging the duties and therefore, the government was moved for sanction and the sanction is refused also," the court observed in its March 31 order.
The CBI too did not mention anything specific against the sanction order which also leads to believe the act of the accused was in discharge of official duties, the court said.
The court noted there was an uptick in anti-national activities—especially in Gujarat— in the aftermath of the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid. Referring to the rise in communal violence, the court noted that the concerned police officers of Ahmedabad who were doing and discharging their official duties were bound to keep watch and supervision on all these activities.
"Being high-rank police officers, it was their boundant duty to take necessary steps in order to maintain law and order," it added.
"There is no question of any fake encounter on the part of any such police officer," the court concluded. "All the police officers were to be more cautious and alert to maintain peace in the public at large. In the past, at number of places in Ahmedabad, there were bomb blasting. Therefore, seriousness and gravity of information cannot be ignored by high rank police officers. They are always dedicated to their duties," it added.
Looking to the material found from the Indica Car (the car in which the four were travelling), it is established that the information was correct, sound and there was a substantial force in the information. Therefore, these 4 persons were required to be prevented from all these aforesaid activities, the court reasoned to conclude that the police officers acted in accordance with their duties.
Nothing to suggest the victims were not terrorists
The court observed that there was nothing on record even to prima facie suggest that the four victims were not terrorists. Or that the IB (Intelligence Bureau) inputs were not genuine, the court added.
The four victims were "not simple and ordinary offenders". It was established that the material against the four was "was based on sound, solid and correct information" which required the Gujarat police to "keep watch and supervision" on their movements and activities.
"Out of 4 persons, 2 were admittedly Pakistani nationals having entered into Indian territory illegally and were Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) operatives and they had entered the State of Gujarat with a view to carry out a massive terrorist operation including assassination of some important leaders as a module of terrorist operation of LeT," [sic], the court order further read.
The court also took into account an affidavit by the Home Ministry which said: a) The Central IB had specific inputs about the movement of the aforesaid 4 persons, which was communicated to Gujarat Police; b) There were specific inputs on record of Central IB clearly showing that the LeT, through the aforesaid 4 persons, had planned a massive terrorist act in Gujarat; c) Ishrat Jahan was also a LeT operative (which became evident from the interrogation of David Headley of United States of America's FBI that she was a suicide bomber) along with other three persons.