The Gujarat High Court on Friday constituted a new three-member Special Investigation Team for a fresh probe into the alleged fake encounter killing of Ishrat Jahan in 2004. It will be headed by Joint Police Commissioner of Delhi Karnail Singh, and will have senior Gujarat cadre IPS officers Mohan Jha and Mr. Satish Verma as members. The SIT has been given three months time to submit its report.
Mr. Jha was also part of an earlier SIT constituted by the High Court to investigate the case, but that was disbanded last month after petitioners filed review petitions demanding a CBI inquiry. On a directive from a Division Bench asking all parties concerned to present a list of names of senior police officers, not below the rank of Deputy Inspector-General, for constituting a new SIT, the State government recommended 11 names including Mr. Jha, while the Centre submitted five names including Mr. Karnail Singh. One of the petitioners, Gopinath Pillai, father of Pranesh Pillai alias Javed Sheikh, who too was killed with Ishrat, gave four names including Mr. Satish Verma.
Ishrat's mother Shamima Kausar, however, refused to propose any name, sticking to her demand for a CBI probe.
While constituting the new SIT, the Bench, comprising Justices Jayant Patel and Abhilasha Kumari, criticised the stand taken by the State government in forming a Special Task Force and a monitoring agency through a September 16 notification.
When the Bench asked the State what it sought from the court by forming the task force, the Advocate-General said the government “[did] not want outsiders to come to the State and carry out investigation.” Officers of the State were capable of carrying out an impartial and independent investigation. An investigation by officers outside the State would demoralise the Gujarat police, he said.
At this submission, the Bench noted that India is “one nation” and “outsiders” could mean only persons from outside the country. The State's submission and affidavit were meant to indirectly dilute the judicial order of a constitutional court through an executive order, the court said and rejected the stand taken by the government.
The court directed the government to provide necessary infrastructure and facilities to the new SIT. It was constituted on review petitions filed by Mr. Pillai and Ms. Kausar after the High Court had directed the Supreme Court-appointed SIT to take up the Ishrat encounter investigation along with the 2002 communal riots cases, the probe of which it was entrusted with. Not only did the Supreme Court not take kindly to the High Court order but also the SIT, headed by the former CBI Director, R.K. Raghavan, expressed its inability to take up the new assignment.
Ishrat, a college student from Mumbra, near Mumbai, along with Javed and Pakistani nationals Amjad Ali Rana and Zeeshan Johar, was killed in the alleged shootout, on the outskirts of Ahmedabad in June 2004, by a team of the Ahmedabad Crime Branch headed by D.G. Vanzara, now in jail in connection with the Sohrabuddin-Kausarbi murder case. The Crime Branch described the four victims as part of a Lashkar-e-Taiba outfit on the prowl to kill Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
Meanwhile, the constitution of the new SIT came in for criticism from Shabnam Hashmi, human rights activist and convener of the Delhi-based ANHAD (Act Now for Harmony And Democracy). In a statement, Ms. Hashmi said the new SIT “did not inspire confidence” as its leader, Mr. Karnail Singh, was “known for supporting encounter killings in Delhi.” The Batla House encounter in September 2008, the killing of an alleged terrorist near the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in May 2006 and the killing of two alleged LeT operatives in April 2005, all of which took place during Mr. Singh's tenure as Joint Commissioner of the Delhi police, were the “subject of inquiry and debate,” she said.