Any action against Satish Verma by State needs approval by review Bench of High Court'

The Gujarat High Court on Thursday appointed a 1980 batch IPS officer of the Maharashtra cadre, Satyapal Singh, chairman of the Special Investigation Team probing the alleged fake encounter killing of Ishrat Jahan.

A Division Bench also granted partial relief to the second SIT member, Satish Verma, a State cadre IPS officer, who sought court protection against any possible punitive action and departmental inquiry by the Gujarat government in connection with a 1993 case. Any action against Mr. Verma would be subject to approval by a review Bench of the High Court. The Bench postponed the hearing on his petition for protection till after the summer vacation.

The court's order came after Advocate-General Kamal Trivedi informed it that “action” had been recommended against Mr. Verma and was “pending before the highest authority” in the State. He, however, did not disclose the nature of action recommended against Mr. Verma by Additional Director-General of Police (Administration) Pramod Kumar, who was asked by the government to file a report on the High Court's recommendations.

The Bench of Justices Jayant Patel and Abhilasha Kumari came down heavily on the government for suggesting that the Ishrat case investigation be handed over to a Special Task Force, which will function under a Monitoring Authority formed to review all police encounter deaths in the State. The Bench asked the Advocate-General why the government was filing an affidavit containing the proposal for handing over the probe to the STF, after a similar suggestion was rejected by the court when the first SIT was formed last year under the then Delhi Joint Police Commissioner, Karnail Singh. He has since been transferred to Mizoram and was relieved by the High Court as SIT chief last month.

Now Dr. Singh, an Additional Director-General of Police in Maharashtra, would head the three-member SIT. The other two members are Mr. Verma and another State cadre IPS officer, Mohan Jha, who was earlier ordered by the High Court to look after only administrative matters of the SIT.

Mr. Verma, who was virtually given a free hand earlier by the High Court to “question anyone and arrest anyone” in connection with the case if evidence available with him warranted such action, moved the High Court on Wednesday seeking protection from a possible departmental inquiry. He also sought a review and recall of the court's earlier order that action be taken against him and two other police officials in connection with the Gosabara RDX landing case of 1993. Mr. Verma expressed apprehension that the government could use the court's order in the Gosabara case to take punitive action against him because of his involvement in the investigation into the high-profile Ishrat case.

Mr. Verma has already indicated that the 2004 encounter could be a case of staged shoot-out, sending the police officials involved in it running for cover. Fourteen policemen, including some IPS officers allegedly involved in the Ishrat encounter moved the High Court last month requesting that the probe be handed over to the CBI as they feared that Mr. Verma could act against them “with a vengeance.”

In the RDX landing case, the High Court order for action also covered another IPS officer of the State cadre, Atul Karwal, and Inspector Sukhdevsinh Zala, who were facing allegations of having let off Sattar Maulana, a key accused, when they were posted in Porbandar in 1993. Part of the explosives, which landed in Gosabara, was later found to have been used in the Mumbai serial bomb blasts.

A former BJP MLA and practising advocate, Yatin Oza, moved the High Court in 2005 demanding action against the three police officers for allegedly endangering national security. A Division Bench of Chief Justice S. J. Mukhopadhyaya and Justice J. B. Pardiwala ordered the State government to act on the report, submitted by Mr.Kumar, on their roles in the case.

Mr. Verma, in his plea, pointed out that the State government had in 2005 accepted that Mr. Oza's petition did not qualify to be Public Interest Litigation and was filed “more out of personal vengeance.” Now the government changed its stand on the issue and preferred to remain silent.