Opining that there is sufficient evidence to form a prima facie view that the Congress Leader Amit Katara hatched a criminal conspiracy to murder BJP councillor Hiren Patel amid political rivalry, the Gujarat High Court has rejected his bail plea for alleged offences under Sections 302, 303 read with Sections 120(b) and 201 of IPC.
The Bench comprising Justice Ilesh Vora observed,
"The Court should not go into merits of the case by appreciation of the evidence. Thus, considering the facts and circumstances of the present case, it appears that the applicant was dominating over the municipality affairs as his wife was President and the whole body was representing one party. In this context, when deceased had managed to win over the councilors of the ruling party, naturally, the issue of ruling of municipality would arise. At this stage, considering the material collected during the course of investigation, it cannot be said that there is no evidence connecting the applicant herein in the alleged offence. It is alleged that, the applicant conspired to kill the deceased for which, he agreed to finance also."
The prosecution had averred that Katara, along with seven other accused persons, had hatched a criminal conspiracy to murder Patel, councillor of Jhalod municipality in Dahod district. Patel was hit by a speeding pick up loading vehicle.
During the course of investigation, CCTV footages, call records and issues of political rivalry were discovered. The investigation revealed that Katara's wife was the President of the Municipality and associated with the Congress Party, while the deceased hailed from BJP. Due to an unexpected election result in the municipality election in favour of the opposition party, the Applicant gave a 'green signal' to Accused No. 4 to eliminate the deceased and thereby remove his domination on the municipal body.
The Prosecution averred that the Accused No. 3, an accused in the Godhra carnage case as well was given necessary inputs about the daily routine of the deceased. Subsequently, the Accused persons hatched the conspiracy at a dhaba and hit the deceased during his morning walk. Accused No. 3 was allegedly engaged as a contract killer by Katara and therefore, he was chargesheeted as the main conspirator for the offences.
As per Katara, he is falsely implicated in the case and there is no sufficient material to infer the commission of the crime. Further, only circumstantial evidence was available. It was further explained that in the instant case, the wife of the Accused, although was defeated, the erstwhile Vice-President of the Municipality, Sonalben of the Congress party became President due to cross-voting amongst the parties. Therefore, there was no motive for the Applicant to eliminate the deceased since the President hailed from the Congress party itself.
Additionally, it was argued that Katara was implicated basis the statements of the co-accused which was hit by Section 25 and 26 of the Evidence Act. The call records between him and Accused No. 3 were also routine in nature and did not establish any conspiracy between the two.
The APP relied on Harjit Singh V/s. Inderpreet Singh alias Inder and Another and other to submit that when there is sufficient material during the course of investigation against the Applicant which established prima facie involvement, then bail should not be granted, particularly because the Applicant was an influential person.
The High Court noted precedents such as State of UP vs Amarmani Tripathi and Ram Govind Upadhyaya v Sudarshan Singh to conclude that it is not expected by the Court to have the entire evidence to establish the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. However, in the event of prima facie satisfaction of the Court, it should consider factors such as severity of offence, severity of punishment, nature of involvement of the accused to grant bail.
Averring that these were settled principles of law, the Bench noted that there was evidence of political rivalry, phone calls amongst the accused persons, particularly during the intervening night and the statements of the co-accused which established a prima facie case. In fact, the police had tracked internet-based voice calls amongst the accused to show that they were in constant contact.
Accordingly, without expressing anything on the merits of the prosecution, the High Court, considering the gravity of the accusations and the interest of the society, was not inclined to grant bail.
Case Title: AMITKUMAR BABUBHAI KATARA v/s THE STATE OF GUJARAT
Case Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Guj) 183