Thirteen years after the killing of Sohrabuddin Shaikh, his wife Kausar Bi and his aide Tulsiram Prajapati in an alleged fake encounter in Gujarat, a special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court on Friday acquitted all the 22 accused, saying a conspiracy could not be proven.
Judge S.J. Sharma said, “The way in which the evidence was brought before me, I could not help. The prosecution could not prove a conspiracy; it could not prove it beyond reasonable doubt despite investigations being conducted by various agencies.” Judge Sharma went on to add, “I feel sorry that a family had lost its son [Sohrabuddin] and daughter-in-law [Kausar Bi], and it is unfortunate that a mother has lost her son [Tulsiram], but I am helpless on the evidence. I am really sorry but the way in which the evidence was brought before me, I could not help.”
He dictated the order in English and Hindi without looking at any paper and said, “There is no substantial evidence to show that threat, pressure, manipulation has been used in the case. The three main witnesses in the case turned hostile and circumstantial evidence is not substantive enough and there is no corroborative evidence.”
Judge Sharma said that of 210 witnesses, 92 turned hostile.
The CBI on Friday said it was yet to receive a copy of the order of a special CBI court acquitting all 22 accused in the Sohrabuddin Shaikh-Kausar Bi fake encounter case, when asked about its future course of action in the case.
Delivering the verdict earlier in the day, Judge S.J. Sharma said despite sincere efforts made by the prosecution, a cogent case could not be established since the CBI lacked documentary evidence and reliable witnesses.
“S arkaari vakeel ne mehnat ki (prosecutor worked hard) and tried to prove the case, but if witnesses don’t say anything, he can’t do anything,” he said.
Delivering the last judgment of his career, Judge Sharma, who is set to retire on December 31, said, “Homicidal death is certain; bullet injuries have been established, there was a post mortem report. However, there is no evidence to show that the accused are the authors of the crime and there was a nexus between them.”
On Tulsiram Prajapati, the third victim of the alleged encounter, Judge Sharma said, “The theory that Tulsiram was present and was a witness to the abduction has no substantial evidence and nothing to show that he was there with them [Sohrabuddin and Kausar Bi].”
Talking about D.G. Vanzara, then Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Anti- Terrorism Squad (ATS) Gujarat, who was discharged in August 2017, the judge said, “Prosecution could not prove that Vanzara saab ‘set’ Ashish Pandya, the sub-inspector. And prosecution could not prove that he spoke to Pandya.”
After the verdict was delivered, all the accused hugged and congratulated each other while Rubabuddin, younger brother of Sohrabuddin, sat alone in the court.
Of the 22 accused, 21 are junior police officers from Gujarat and Rajasthan, who, the CBI said, were part of the teams that abducted the victims and later killed them in staged encounters. The remaining accused was the owner of the farmhouse in Gujarat where Shaikh and Kausar Bi were illegally detained before being killed.
The chargesheet filed by the CBI, on November 22, 2005, said Sohrabuddin along with Kauser Bi and Tulsiram Prajapati, boarded a bus from Hyderabad and proceeded towards Sangli. It was trailed by a Gujarat police team. The three victims were taken into custody by a police team on November 22-23 night. The couple were taken in one vehicle and Prajapati in another. The chargesheet said they were brought to Valsad by Gujarat police. From there, Prajapati was allowed to return to Bhilwara in Rajasthan. Sohrabuddin was murdered and it was shown as the killing of a Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorist in an encounter on November 26, 2005 in Ahmedabad. His wife Kauser Bi was murdered on November 29, 2005, and her body disposed of. Prajapati was killed in an encounter.
(With PTI inputs)