Mumbai, Dec 7 : Over a decade after it erupted into a major political storm, a Special CBI Court has fixed December 21 as the date for the final verdict in the alleged ‘fake encounters’ of gangster Sohrabuddin Anwar Shaikh and Tulsiram Prajapati and the rape-cum-murder of Kausar Bi here on Friday.
The final arguments in the case, which were taken up on December 3, ended two days later before CBI Special Judge S.J. Sharma.
“I need around 14 days. I am sure I will complete by December 21. If not, then I will pass the judgment on December 24,” the judge said on Friday.
The alleged “fake encounters” of gangsters Sohrabuddin and Prajapati and the disappearance of the former’s wife, Kausar Bi, took place in 2005-06, kicking off a major political controversy.
The prosecution’s case was that Sohrabuddin was linked with terror outfits like Lashkar-e-Tayiba and was allegedly conspiring to assassinate “an important political leader”, presumably then Chief Minister (and now Prime Minister) Narendra Modi.
There were a total of 37 accused in the case, of which 16 were discharged in 2014, including 15 by the Special CBI Court Mumbai and one by the Bombay High Court.
Among those discharged were the then Gujarat Home Minister and now BJP President Amit Shah, then Rajasthan Home Minister G.C. Kataria, the ‘encounter specialist’ and former Deputy Inspector General from Gujarat D.G. Vanzara, who at the relevant time headed the Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) in that state, IPS officer N.K. Amin and 12 other policemen, including IPS officers.
Another 22 accused remain in the dock, including two Deputy Superintendents, Senior Inspectors, an Inspector, Sub-Inspectors, Assistant Sub-Inspectors and several constables of Gujarat and Rajasthan Police.
However, during the recording of their statements under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) Sec. 313, all accused pleaded “not guilty” and claimed they were implicated in the cases because of rivalry among top police officials in the then prevailing political atmosphere.
In fact, during the conclusion of the final arguments, CBI Counsel B.P. Raju admitted to “lacunae” in the probe since the case was transferred to the central agency only in 2010, more than five years after the alleged fake encounters took place.
Interestingly, after appeals from various quarters, the politically-sensitive trial which had been shifted from Gujarat to Mumbai by the Supreme Court in September 2012 saw a total of 210 prosecution witnesses being examined of which 92 turned hostile.
As per the CBI probe, a team of Gujarat and Rajasthan Police had allegedly kidnapped Sohrabuddin, his wife Kausar Bi and their associate Prajapati on November 23, 2005 when they were travelling by bus from Hyderabad to Sangli.
Two days later, Prajapati was taken to Udaipur (Rajasthan) and arrested in a case, while the next day Sohrabuddin was shot dead in an alleged ‘encounter’ near the Gujarat capital Gandhinagar.
Kausar Bi, who had allegedly disappeared, was taken to a village in Banaskantha district, raped and murdered and later her ashes were thrown in a river on November 29.
Prajapati, who had witnessed the alleged kidnappings, was being taken from Ahmedabad to Rajasthan after a court case hearing on Decemeber 28 when the police claimed he attempted to escape from their custody and shot him near the Ambaji pilgrim town.
The CBI’s contention was that both the alleged encounters were stage-managed.
A prosecution witness, Azam Khan, had indicated the involvement of Sohrabuddin-Prajapati in several other major crimes, including the killing of former Gujarat Home Minister Haren Pandya in March 2003.