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Sanjiv Bhatt's Sentence In Custodial Death Case : Sibal Seeks Consideration Of Pending Review First; SC Adjourns For 6 Weeks

Radhika Roy
27 Jan 2021 6:35 AM GMT
Sanjiv Bhatts Sentence In Custodial Death Case : Sibal Seeks Consideration Of Pending Review First; SC Adjourns For 6 Weeks
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The Supreme Court on Wednesday adjourned the hearing of the petition filed by former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt to suspend his sentence in a custodial death case of 1990, at the request of his lawyer Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal. A Bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, MR Shah and R Subhash Reddy granted adjournment for six weeks after Kapil Sibal suggested that it is better for...

The Supreme Court on Wednesday adjourned the hearing of the petition filed by former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt to suspend his sentence in a custodial death case of 1990, at the request of his lawyer Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal.

A Bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, MR Shah and R Subhash Reddy granted adjournment for six weeks after Kapil Sibal suggested that it is better for the court to first consider the pending review against the June 2019 order which dismissed the ex-IPS officer's plea to examine additional witnesses in the trial.

He submitted that this was a case of "mistrial" and "travesty of justice".

"This is case of complete mistrial", he told the bench.

"I am saying that this is a case of complete mistrial because my witnesses have not been called. How 23 witnesses have been examined?. I am not on merits at all. I am telling you the procedure adopted. It is binding on every court", he said.

"Out of 300 witnesses, they called only 37", the senior lawyer added.

He informed the bench that the Supreme Court had dismissed Bhatt's plea for examination of additional witnesses in June 2019 and that review against that order is pending. He suggested that it is better if the court hears that review first and consider the present plea in open court.

"My request is to please postpone this matter. First hear the review first. Please hear it in open court", Sibal told the bench

Sibal submitted that the case was related to the death of an accused, who was taken into custody during communal riots in 1990. The person died several days after he was released from custody.

"Five years passed pursuant to the investigation and then a summary report was filed in 1995. I had nothing to do with it then. The Magistrate dismissed it and then the State filed an Appeal. I had no role to play in this. From 1996 to 2011, I was not involved.

Then suddenly State decided to withdraw the Application and I opposed it. The Court passed an order saying that there was some political ramification. There was no stay, no delay.

Then the State submitted 300 witnesses. From 1990 to now, I have not got a stay from any court, I had no role to play in any of this. Then at the last moment, the State chose to not show some vital witnesses. I filed an Application", Sibal submitted.

He argued that Bhatt was in no way responsible for the delay in trial and the proceedings were stayed at the instance of other accused officers.


BACKGROUND
Bhatt was directed to undergo life-imprisonment by a Sessions Court in Jamnagar in June 2019 for involvement in custodial death of Jamjodhpur resident Prabhudas Vaishnani in November 1990. The officer, who had filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court in 2011 accusing the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi of complicity in the 2002 riots, is currently lodged at Palanpur jail.

The instant SLP filed in the Supreme Court challenges the refusal of the Gujarat High Court to suspend his sentence.
In October 2019, the Gujarat High Court had refused to suspend his sentence observing he had had scant respect for Courts and had deliberately tried to mislead them.

"..it appears that the applicant has scant respect for the Courts and is in the habit of misusing the process of law and scandalizing the Court," a Division Bench of Justices Bela M. Trivedi and AC Rao of the High Court had observed. Earlier, Justice VB Mayani, who sat on a Division Bench with Justice Harsha Devani, had recused saying "not before me" when the bail application of Bhatt and Pravinsinh Zala, another convict, came up.

In the petition filed before the Supreme Court, Bhat has argued that the High Court had failed to appreciate the fact that the State Government started prosecuting him only after 2011 when he came out against Narendra Modi. Till then, the stand of the State had been that there was no case against Bhatt, the plea stated.

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 has contended that the High Court failed to see that the alleged custodial death happened many days after the release of the prisoner from police custody on November 18, 1990.

The IPS officer, who was sacked in 2015, approached the Supreme Court 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. He argued that the case against him was a part of "political vendetta".

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 a 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".


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