The Gujarat government on Friday withdrew the security cover for senior IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt, leaving a lone armed guard at his disposal. This despite his repeated pleas for enhancing security for him and his immediate family members.
The security cover was withdrawn even as the G.T. Nanavati-Akshay Mehta judicial inquiry commission, probing the Godhra train carnage and post-Godhra communal riots in 2002, decided to question Mr. Bhatt on May 16 “in camera” in the judges' chamber.
Mr. Bhatt, who created a flutter last week by submitting an affidavit in the Supreme Court accusing Chief Minister Narendra Modi of having adopted an anti-minority stance during the riots, has written several letters to Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Balwant Singh seeking security cover.
The former Additional Director-General of Police, R.B. Shreekumar, also wrote to the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) to ensure adequate security for Mr. Bhatt as he was a key witness in the case filed before the Supreme Court based on the petition filed by Zakia Jaffrey, wife of the former Congress MP, Ehsan Jaffrey, who was among those killed in the Gulberg Society massacre.
But instead of providing the “Y category” security, which Mr. Bhatt claimed that the State Intelligence Bureau and the Ahmedabad police recommended for him after a threat perception assessment recently, Director-General of Police Chittaranjan Singh ordered withdrawal of the official vehicle and the driver allotted to him and sent back the five armed guards Mr. Bhatt had deployed at his Ahmedabad residence from the State Reserve Police Training College, Junagadh, of which he was Principal.
Mr. Singh told journalists that an armed guard from the Ahmedabad police had been posted at his residence “round the clock” as required under the Supreme Court's order to provide security to all witnesses called by the SIT.
The DGP claimed that Mr. Bhatt was on “unauthorised leave” and had been “absent” from his place of posting in Junagadh. Officially, the police could provide him protection only at his place of posting and his official residence in Junagadh. Only an armed guard personally attached to him could be taken anywhere with him, Mr. Singh said. The DGP, in his letter to Mr. Bhatt, said, “As per the government rules, since you are unauthorisedly absent, deploying manpower from the training college is a gross violation of the rules.”
Mr. Bhatt, however, challenged Mr. Singh's claim that he was “unauthorisedly absent” and shot off a letter accusing him of “continuing to take pro-active steps to jeopardise” his and his family's security “by repeatedly ordering withdrawal of his official vehicle and security.”
In his letter, Mr. Bhatt claimed that he was on a month's leave earlier and on March 19 he resumed duty duly informing the DGP. “I deposed before the SIT on March 21 and since have been instructed by the SIT to stay put in Ahmedabad since they could summon me again. That is why I have not left Ahmedabad.” He wondered why, after a month of his returning to Ahmedabad and staying there put at the behest of the SIT, the DGP found him to be on “unauthorised leave.”
Meanwhile, the Jan Sangharsh Manch, which had moved an application before the Nanavati–Mehta commission to summon Mr. Bhatt for cross-examination, objected to the commission's decision to hold the proceedings “in camera.”
Mukul Sinha, advocate for the Manch, which represents riot victims before the commission, said he would oppose the move. “They cannot keep the media out of this when the entire enquiry is happening in the public domain.”