(Story to be updated after receiving judgment)
Former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt has been sentenced to life imprisonment by Jamnagar Sessions Court in Gujarat after finding him guilty in a 1990 custodial death case.
The incident relates to the death of one Prabhudas Madhavji Vaishnani in November 1990, which was allegedly due to custodial torture. At the time Bhatt was the Assistant Superintendent of Police Jamnagar, who, along with other officers, took into custody about 133 persons, including Vaishnani, for rioting during a Bharat Bandh.
Vaishnani, who was kept in custody for nine days, died ten days after release on bail. As per medical records, the cause of death was renal failure.
Following his death, an FIR was registered against Bhatt and few other officers for custodial torture. Cognizance of the case was taken by the Magistrate in 1995. However, the trial remained stayed till 2011 due to stay by the Gujarat High Court. Later the stay was vacated and trial commenced.
Bhatt is at present in custody in an alleged drug planting case of 1996. Last month the Supreme Court had dismissed his bail plea in that case.
Last week, the Supreme Court had rejected Bhatt's petition to allow examination of additional witnesses in this case.
The IPS officer, who was sacked in 2015, approached the SC alleging that although nearly 300 witnesses were listed by the prosecution, only 32 were actually examined in trial, leaving out many crucial witnesses. Three police men who were part of the team which investigated the offence, and few other witnesses who denied any incident of custodial violence were not examined by the prosecution, stated Bhatt.
Though application under Section 311 CrPC was filed for examining additional witnesses, the Magistrate dismissed it. This was challenged in the High Court, which partially allowed the application by permitting the examination of three investigating officers. The High Court said that other witnesses could be called as defence witnesses under Section 232 CrPC.
The vacation bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and Ajay Rastogi dismissed the plea saying that a three judge bench has already passed an order of dismissal on a similar plea and therefore it cannot interfere. On May 24, a bench of Justices Arun Mishra, B R Gavai and Surya Kant had dismissed a petition filed by another accused in the case, obserivng that the applications were part of delaying tactics and directed the trial court to complete the trial by June 20.
In April 2011, Bhatt had filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court accusing the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi of complicity in the 2002 riots. He claimed to have attended a meeting convened by the then CM, Mr. Modi, on February 27, 2002, the day of the communal riots, when instructions were allegedly given to the State Police to not take any action against the perpetrators of violence.
The Court appointed SIT however gave clean chit to Modi.
In 2015, Bhatt was removed from the police service, on the ground of "unauthorised absence". In October 2015, the Supreme Court dismissed Bhatt's plea for constituting a special investigation team (SIT) for cases filed against him by Gujarat Government. The Court observed that, "Bhatt was in active touch with leaders of rival political party, was being tutored by NGOs, was involved in politics and activism of creating pressure, even upon 3-judge bench of this court, amicus and many others".