To probe the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case; Bench expresses resentment against ‘casual' approach of the Centre

For the fourth time, the Gujarat High Court has appointed a new chairman to head the Special Investigation Team to probe into the Ishrat Jahan alleged fake encounter case.

After expressing its strong resentment against the Central government's “casual approach” to the Ishrat Jahan probe, a Division Bench of the High Court comprising justices Jayant Patel and Abhilasha Kumari appointed the 1978-batch Bihar cadre IPS officer, Rajiv Ranjan Verma, as the new head of the SIT.

Mr. Verma, the fourth IPS officer to be appointed as the SIT chairman in the case since it was constituted by the High Court just about six months ago, is currently posted as the Additional Director General of Police in the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF). The Centre has given a sort of guarantee to the High Court that he would not follow his predecessors to decline the appointment.

Only on Friday the High Court appointed the Andhra Pradesh cadre IPS officer, J. V. Ramudu, as the SIT chairman after the Assistant Solicitor General Pankaj Champaneri, representing the Centre informed the Division Bench that the both the A. P. government and Mr. Ramudu had consented to take up the probe. But as soon as Mr. Ramudu came to know about the appointment, he declined the offer on “health groundS” and informed the High Court that his consent was never taken.

The “Ramudu fiasco” annoyed the Bench to such an extent that it had asked the Centre to submit an affidavit by August 4 giving details of written communications between the Centre, the A. P. government and Mr. Ramudu over the appointment as the SIT chairman, failing which it threatened to initiate contempt proceedings against the government. The Bench has also kept its options open to issue show cause notices to the Union Home Secretary and other officials concerned if it was not satisfied with its reply on the “Ramudu fiasco.”

Mr. Ramudu's predecessor as the SIT chief, Satyapal Singh, a Maharashtra cadre IPS officer, had similarly withdrawn from the scene less than one month after his appointment citing “language problem” and other issues which failed to satisfy the Bench. In fact as soon as Mr. Singh was appointed the chairman, the Maharashtra government had let known its reservations in sparing Mr. Singh to probe the Ishrat Jahan case giving a clear indication that in his case too the Centre did not consult the concerned State government before empanelling his name in the recommendation submitted to the High Court. The first chairman Karnail Singh, a Delhi cadre IPS officer, excused himself from the case, as he was transferred to Mizoram in April.

The Mumbra (Mumbai) – based college girl, Ishrat Jahan and three others including Javed Sheikh alias Pranesh Pillai, Amjad Ali Rana and Zeeshan Johar, (the last two believed to be Pakistani nationals), were killed on the outskirts of Ahmedabad on June 15, 2004 by Ahmedabad Crime Branch police in an “encounter.” The police had claimed the group to be Lashkar-e-Toiba operatives who were here to target Chief Minister Narendra Modi and some other leaders to avenge the 2002 communal riots in the State.

A fresh probe, however, was ordered by the High Court into the encounter on petitions filed by Ishrat's mother, Shammima Bibi, and Javed's father Gopinath Pillai, who said that their wards were innocent and alleged that they were eliminated by the Gujarat police in a “fake encounter.”