SIT says 2004 killing of Ishrat by Gujarat police was staged

A Special Investigation Team appointed by the Gujarat High Court has concluded that the sensational Ishrat Jahan encounter of June 15, 2004 — in which the Ahmedabad police claimed they shot dead four Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists on a mission to assassinate Narendra Modi — was entirely staged and the teenaged girl from Maharashtra and the three men who died with her were, in fact, murdered by policemen in cold blood.

After the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case, this is the second time the Gujarat police's claim to have saved their Chief Minister from assassination has come a cropper. On Monday, a Division Bench of the Gujarat High Court, comprising Justices Jayant Patel and Abhilasha Kumari, accepted the SIT's report and ordered the government to file a fresh FIR under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code — murder — for investigation against the policemen involved in the encounter. Ironically, the earlier FIR was under the now-repealed Prevention of Terrorism Act, after the police claimed all the four were LeT operatives were looking to avenge the 2002 riots.

Apart from Ishrat Jahan, the others killed in the fake encounter were Javed Sheikh, aka Pranesh Pillai, a native of Kerala, and Amjad Ali Rana and Zeeshan Johar, whom the police claimed were Pakistanis but whose identity has never been fixed with certainty.

The three-member SIT, headed by the Bihar-cadre IPS officer, Rajiv Ranjan Verma, had submitted its report in a sealed cover before the Division Bench on November 18. Justice Patel refused to disclose the details of their findings, but said the SIT had reached the “unanimous conclusion” that the Ishrat Jahan encounter was “not a genuine one” and that the four were “not killed at the date, time and place” notified by the police. This clearly indicated that the four were in police custody earlier and killed at some other place and time, and the bodies were dumped on the road near Kotarpur, on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, in the early hours of June 15, 2004.

The police had earlier claimed that the four were travelling in a blue Tata Indica driven by Pranesh Pillai from Surat and that on prior information they intercepted the car near Kotarpur and in “exchange of fire,” the four were killed in the “encounter.”

A judicial inquiry into the encounter, conducted routinely by Ahmedabad metropolitan magistrate S.P. Tamang, concluded in his report submitted on September 7, 2009 that the encounter was fake and they were “executed in cold blood by the police officials for their benefit.”

The court observed that the case required “fresh investigation,” but has yet to decide which agency will conduct it: the SIT, or some Central agency, particularly the Central Bureau of Investigation or the National Investigation Agency. Justice Patel said the court would decide on this after hearing all the parties on November 23, including the Centre.