On the evening of July 16, 2005, there was a knock on the door of a Karol Bagh hotel room where Moinuddin Dar and Bashir Ahmed Shah were staying. Ravinder Tyagi of the Delhi Police Special Branch was at the door.
The nightmare for the two Kashmiri residents had just begun. Over the next couple of days, they were detained in the hotel room, subjected to torture and forced to sign blank sheets of paper.
Dar and Shah, along with Saqib Rehman and Nazeer Ahmed Sofi, were presented on July 2 before a frenzied media by the police. Tyagi claimed that his team arrested the ‘terrorists’ after an encounter on the same day at National Highway 8, near the Indira Gandhi International Airport.
According to Tyagi, an informer had tipped him off about the terrorists who were headed to Delhi from Jaipur in a blue Tata Indica, carrying a huge consignment of arms and ammunition. Tyagi led a police party and sat waiting on the highway. A major attack was averted as the police apprehended the “terrorists” after a chase that involved cross-fire and hurling of hand grenades, the police claimed.
But the case fell apart in court. The deposition of the star witness, Tyagi, crumbled under the scrutiny of the Additional Sessions Judge of a Delhi court Virender Bhat. Tyagi could not disclose the identity of his informer nor could he explain why he felt no urgency to communicate this information about the impending strike to the Intelligence Bureau or his seniors.
Pronouncing the final verdict on February 2, 2011, the judge held that no one could be convicted on the basis of the “concocted” secret information which could not be “tested on the touchstone of the cross-examination by the accused.”
The trial brought out more fudging. The tailor, who had identified Dar as the person to whom he had sold the army uniform, turned out to be a stock witness of the police.
During the trial, the records showed that the Tata Indica, shown as the vehicle of choice of the alleged terrorists and which the police said was stolen, was registered with the transport authority much after it was reported to have been missing. This led the court to conclude that the “Tata Indica car was planted and merely used as a tool to falsely implicate the accused in this case.”
The judge “honourably acquitted” all the accused, including Dar, Shah, Rehman and Sofi, who had already spent over five-and-a-half years in jail.
“An absolutely fake encounter has been projected. The story of the encounter was carefully scripted in the office of Special Staff, Delhi Police, Dhaula Kuan, by its main author Tyagi with the assistance of SI Nirakar, SI Charan Singh and SI Mahender Singh,” said the Judge.
He also directed the police to register a common FIR against all the four police personnel for “stage managing of the fake encounter” and “abuse of their powers as police officer”. This is one of the 16 cases of frame-ups of Muslim citizens, documented by the Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association, in a report ‘Framed, Damned, Acquitted: Dossiers of a Very Special Cell,’ which compiled all judgments in these cases to show the ‘terrorists’ were arrested by the Special Cell on charges of being operatives of various terrorist organisations — mainly Al Badr, Harkat-ul-Jhihad-al-Islami and Lashkar-e-Taiba — only to be acquitted later of all charges.
As Manisha Sethi, president of the activists’ body, argues: “There is an uncanny, almost scripted pattern in the cases.” She considers it the “proverbial tip of the iceberg,” and indicative of the extent of the malaise affecting the policing and criminal justice systems.
The highlight of the series of cases was the manner in which judges commented on how prosecution evidence was tampered with and fabricated, and how story after story, presented by the prosecution, was found by the court as unreliable and concocted. Curiously, all these cases have some common features. The information was always secret and therefore unverifiable. The police always failed to join public and independent witnesses in the actual operation even when the place of arrest was a bustling public area.
The vehicles used in the operation are requisitioned from agencies in order to avoid recording of the movements in official log books. There is a time lag of one week to a month between the time the ‘accused’ are picked up and shown to be arrested. This interim is used for torture and extraction of illegal confessions.
In one of the cases, the CBI, while investigating the arrest of alleged operatives of Al Badr by the Special Cell, had sought “legal action against sub-inspectors Vinay Tyagi, Subhash Vats and Tyagi” for fabrication of evidence.
But, Ms. Sethi adds, that as for action against the named police personnel is concerned, not a single officer, including those involved in the fake encounter case scripted by Tyagi, has been subjected to criminal proceedings. “On the contrary, adverse observations, strictures and censures from the courts did not come in the way of promotions, gallantry awards and the President’s medals to such personnel.”
Even after the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) indicted ACP Sanjeev Yadav — a figure who surfaces repeatedly in the JTSA report — for staging an encounter in Sonia Vihar in 2006, he was assigned to head probes as crucial and sensitive as the attack on the Israeli diplomat in Delhi, concludes Ms. Sethi.