All 22 accused, including 21 cops, acquitted in Sohrabuddin ‘encounter’: How the case unfolded

Mumbai: A special CBI court in Mumbai on Friday acquitted all the 22 accused, including 21 policemen, in the alleged fake encounter killings of gangster Sohrabuddin Shaikh, his wife Kausar Bi and his aide Tulsiram Prajapati, saying witnesses and proofs were not satisfactory.

Tulsiram Prajapati

“Witnesses and proofs were not satisfactory to prove conspiracy and murder in the 2005 encounter killing,” said Special CBI Judge SJ Sharma, who observed that the circumstantial evidence was not substantial.
All the accused were out on bail during the year-long trial.

What did the judge say?

The judge said the prosecution had failed to establish a cogent case to suggest that there was any conspiracy to kill Shaikh and the others, and that the accused persons had any role in it.

Judge Sharma said that while there was no denying that Shaikh and the others were killed, however, “going by the evidence on record, the court could not conclude that the present accused persons could be questioned, or, held accountable for those deaths.”

“The prosecution has failed to put forth any documentary or substantive evidence to suggest or establish the conspiracy theory against the 22 accused. It has failed to establish all charges levelled against them. Hence all the accused stand acquitted,” the judge said.

“I feel sorry for the families since three lives were lost. However, the system demands that courts go solely by substantive evidence on record,” he said.

Judge Sharma said the court cannot rely solely on “circumstantial and hearsay evidence”.

Despite sincere efforts made by the prosecution, a cogent case could not be established since the CBI lacked documentary evidence and reliable witnesses, the judge said.

“Two main prosecution witnesses turned hostile. What could the prosecution have done? It couldn’t have forced them not to turn hostile,” the judge said.

“Therefore, when this court ultimately went through all the evidence and testimonies on record, it concluded that no case of conspiracy could be established. Also, no link between these 22 persons and the three deaths could be established,” he said.

About the case

As many as 21 of the 22 accused are junior-level police officials from Gujarat and Rajasthan, The prosecuting agency CBI said they were part of the teams which abducted Shaikh, Kausar Bi and Prajapati and later killed them in staged encounters.

The remaining accused was the owner of the farm house in Gujarat where Shaikh and his wife Kausar Bi were illegally detained before they were allegedly killed.

Gulabchand Kataria

When the CBI took over the case, it had charged 38 persons, including BJP president Amit Shah (then Gujarat home minister), Gulabchand Kataria (then Rajasthan home minister) and and senior IPS officers like D G Vanzara and P C Pande.

The prosecution had examined 210 witnesses, of which 92 turned hostile. Sixteen, including Shah, Kataria, Vanzara and Pande were earlier discharged by the CBI court due to lack of evidence against them.

The case was initially probed by the Gujarat CID before the CBI took over in 2010.

Sequence of events

November 22, 2005: Sohrabuddin, Kausar Bi and Prajapati are intercepted by a police team in a bus while returning to Sangli from Hyderabad and taken into custody. Shaikh and his wife taken in one vehicle, Prajapati in another.

November 22 to 25, 2005: Shaikh and Kausar Bi are kept in a farm house near Ahmedabad. Prajapati sent to Udaipur where he is lodged in the prison there to face trial in cases against him.

November 26, 2005: Shaikh is killed in an alleged fake encounter allegedly by a joint team comprising Gujarat and Rajasthan police.

November 29, 2005: Kausar Bi is also allegedly killed by the police, her body burnt and disposed of.

December 27, 2006: Prajapati is taken from the Udaipur central prison by a team comprising Rajasthan and Gujarat police and allegedly killed in an encounter near Sarhad Chapri on Gujarat-Rajasthan border.

2005-2006: Shaikh’s family approaches Supreme Court for investigation into his encounter and also seeks to know the whereabouts of Kausar Bi. SC directs Gujarat state CID to conduct a probe in the case.

April 30, 2007: Gujarat government files a report before SC stating Kausar Bi is dead and her body burnt and disposed of.

January 2010: SC hands over the probe in the case to CBI.

Amit Shah

July 23, 2010: CBI files chargesheet in the case against 38 persons including the then Gujarat Home Minister Amit Shah, the then Rajasthan Home Minister Gulabchand Kataria and senior IPS officials.

July 25, 2010: CBI arrests Amit Shah in the case.

October 8, 2010: A special CBI court in Gujarat rejects Amit Shah’s bail plea.

October 29, 2010: Gujarat High Court grants bail to Amit Shah on a bond of Rs1 lakh.

September 27, 2012: SC transfers trial in the Sohrabuddin Shaikh-Kausar Bi alleged fake encounter case from Gujarat to Mumbai as sought by the CBI to ensure a fair trial.

April 8, 2012: SC clubs trial in Shaikh, Kausar Bi and Prajapati encounter cases.

December 30, 2014: A special CBI court in Mumbai discharges Amit Shah from the case. Fifteen other accused including Kataria and senior IPS officials also discharged subsequently.

November 2015: Shaikh’s brother Rubabuddin approaches the Bombay High Court to challenge Amit Shah’s discharge in the case. The same month, he tells the HC that he does not wish to pursue the case and withdraws his petition.

December 2015: Social activist Harsh Mander moves HC against Amit Shah’s discharge.

April 2016: Bombay HC dismisses Mander’s petition after observing that he has no ‘locus standi’ (not an aggrieved party) in the case. Mander files appeal in Supreme Court.

August 2016: SC rejects Mander’s appeal.

October 2017: Special CBI court in Mumbai frames charges against 22 accused.

November 2017: Special CBI Judge SJ Sharma commences trial in the case. Prosecution examines 210 witnesses, of which 92 turn hostile.

September 2018: Bombay HC upholds discharge granted to senior police officers D G Vanzara, Rajkumar Pandian, NK Amin, Vipul Aggarwal, Dinesh MN and Dalpat Singh Rathod.

November 23, 2018: Court completes examination of witnesses and recording of statements of the accused persons under section 313 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

December 5, 2018: Court closes the case for judgment on December 21, 2018 after completion of final arguments by prosecution and defence lawyers.

December 21, 2018: Court acquits all 22 accused in the case after observing that proseuction failed to establish charges against them.

(With PTI inputs)