Gujarat encounters: SC takes up plea for SIT probe

Independent probe sought into incidents from 2003 to 2006
Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on Monday expressed his resolve to decide petitions filed by journalist B.G. Verghese and lyricist Javed Akhtar for an independent and fair investigation into 22 “fake” police encounters that occurred in Gujarat between 2003 and 2006 under the chief ministership of Narendra Modi. “We have to get to this… when do we do it?” Chief Justice Gogoi, heading a three-judge Bench, asked the lawyers present in the case. The case has till now been repeatedly adjourned.
Panel report sought
Gujarat counsel and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta objected when the petitioners’ side, represented by advocates Prashant Bhushan and Nitya Ramakrishnan, sought a copy of the report filed by a Supreme Court-appointed committee, led by former Supreme Court judge, H.S. Bedi, into the encounter deaths.
The report was filed in the Supreme Court earlier this year in a sealed cover.
Mr. Mehta urged the court to not share the report with the petitioners. He said he had first “something responsible to say”. “Ok, say it,” Chief Justice Gogoi told him. To this, the Solicitor General said he would prefer to put down his statement in an affidavit. This led the court to record the SG’s objection, saying, “the Solicitor General wants to submit an affidavit before the court about making available” the inquiry report. The court stood firm and posted the next hearing for December 12 though Mr. Mehta urged it to list the case in January, after the Winter vacations. In 2012, Justice Bedi had replaced Justice M.B. Shah as the court-appointed committee’ chairperson.
The petitions had sought independent investigations by CBI/ SIT alleging fake encounters and cover up into killings in cold blood. Even then the apex court had noted that the case has been “pending for years without any substantive orders [being] passed”. It had asked the committee to “look into all these cases thoroughly so that the truth is revealed”. In his petition filed in 2007 in the Supreme Court, Mr. Verghese had raised suspicions about the encounter deaths between 2003 and 2006. He produced on record before the court the very list that the Gujarat government had furnished to the State Legislative Assembly on the details of the encounters. The list, he had alleged, showed that the encounter killings span a range of persons that included migrant workmen to suspected terrorists, all aged between 22 and 37. “There is a need to investigate this pattern and there must be a system in place to ensure that armed personnel do not easily do away with lives of citizens,” he had submitted. Mr. Akhtar had highlighted a case involving the killing of Sameer Khan and alleged that in all these cases the police version was invariably that the victims were terrorists from Jaish-e-Mohammed on a mission to assassinate Mr. Modi. The court had then made it clear that the cases did not include those already under investigation by the CBI or SIT as per Supreme Court or High Court orders. This would mean the Sohrabuddin-Kauser Bi,Tulsiram Prajapati and Ishrat Jahan cases were outside its purview.

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