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Hard facts of Ishrat Jahn's fake encounter case
Tuesday July 2, 2013 9:05 PM, Syed Ali Mujtaba

There are two points of reference in Ishrat Jahan's alleged fake encounter case. The court has asked the CBI to file its charge sheet by July 4 on the first reference, whether the encounter was a fake and second all those gunned down were terrorists?

This is a very interesting case that has all the ingredients of Bollywood potboilers like the movie Shootout at Wdala. This is because the forensic report has revealed that, those shot were from the range of 25 cm only. Now assuming that they were terrorist, as claimed by the police, the recovery of AK 47 from the encounter spot, raises the question why did they not open fire in their self-defence?

The answer is they had no weapon to retaliate and it was a clear cut case of clod blooded murder. So, the first reference is well established that it was a fake encounter.

The second reference, whether they are terrorists or not is something that needs investigation. The onus is to prove is on the investigators to prove those dead as guilty. The general perception is, all were innocent mistakenly take up and killed on the basis of misinformed report.

The third point that needs to be investigated is the role of the IB officials who tipped the Gujarat police about Ishrat Jahan and co. From where he got the input and on whose behest they were killed. This is very sensitive issue as it involves political masters and at its thread reaches to Delhi and at that time both centre and state governments were ruled by the BJP.

The last point in this puzzle the role of state leadership in giving orders to the police official to kill Ishrat Jahan and co. Obviously, it's Gujarat Chief Minister Narendr Modi who holds the last pillar of this case.

Will the buck stop at Gujrat Chief Ministers's office and will the charges framed against him for his implicit complicity, is something that remains to be seen.

The Ishrat Jahan encounter took place on 15 June 2004, and involved killings of four people on an empty road stretch between Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar in Gujarat, by officers of the Ahmedabad Police Crime Branch.

The alleged terrorists were Ishrat Jahan, a 19-year old girl from Mumbai, and three men: Pranesh Pillai (alias Javed Gulam Sheikh), Amjad Ali Rana and Zeeshan Johar.

The encounter was carried out by a team led by DIG D.G. Vanjara, who was later jailed for his alleged involvement in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter of 2005.

The police alleged that Ishrat and her associates were LeT operatives involved in a plot to assassinate the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi.

An Ahmedabad Metropolitan court investigated the case and the Metropolitan Magistrate S P Tamang submitted its report in the metropolitan court Ahmedabad on 7 September 2009. It said the four persons were killed in police custody and implicated a number of top police officials.

In the 243-page report, Tamang named K.R. Kaushik, who was then the Ahmedabad Police Commissioner, P.P. Pandey, who was then the chief of the Crime Branch, and another encounter specialist Tarun Barot, the then head of the DCB, D.G. Vanzara, among others.

Tamang's report said the Crime Branch police kidnapped Ishrat and the others from Mumbai on 12 June 2004 and brought them to Ahmedabad. The four were killed on the night of 14 June in police custody, but the police claimed that an "encounter" took place the next morning on the outskirts of Ahmedabad.

Tamang said there was no evidence to link the victims with the terrorists outfit LeT. There was also nothing to indicate that they had come to Gujarat to kill Modi. The report said explosives, rifles and other weapons allegedly found in the car, and the weapons found on their person were all planted by the police.

The Gujarat High Court stayed the Tamang report on 9 September 2009 but said that Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Court could use the report.

The Gujarat State Government challenged the report of the metropolitan magistrate, saying that the accused policemen were not given an opportunity to present their side of the arguments. The case was thus taken to the Gujarat High Court.

On 21 November 2011, a Special Investigation Team (SIT) submitted its report to Gujarat High Court saying it was staged encounter. The Court ordered that a complaint under Indian Penal Code Section 302 (murder) to be filed against 20 policemen, including senior IPS officers, in this fake encounter.

In June 2013, the Tehelka magazine published an expose that revealed that the CBI has in its possession an audio recording of a conversation between Gujarat's former Minister of State Praful Patel, senior IAS officer G C Murmu, and other top officials in a meeting called to chalk out a plan to safeguard the interests of the officers whose names could crop up in the investigation. The conversation was secretly recorded by a meeting attendee, Girish Laxman Singhal, one of the two accused police officers who have been arrested by the CBI in the case.

The Gujarat government had faced strong criticism by human rights groups for anti-Muslim human rights violations, following the communal riots of 2002.

During this period, there had been several police encounter deaths in the Gujarat, three of which have been attributed to attempts to kill Narendra Modi in retaliation for the alleged involvement of the state machinery in the riots of 2002.

According to People's Union for Civil Liberties, the Gujarat police did not follow normal procedures in their investigations. No FIR was lodged with the local area police station where the encounter occurred, no charge sheet, no inquest report, and no witness statement. No bullet marks or damage was observed on the road or surrounding area.

The human rights activists have alleged that many of these alleged encounters actually happen in police custody. They claimed that there was a pattern that many of these encounters: they always took place in the wee hours of the morning in a deserted area, with no witnesses; a vigorous exchange of fire resulted in the deaths of all the terrorists, while the police received no injuries; and the diary of the accused was often recovered, and contained incriminating evidence.

This case has come to a very critical stage. Will the court bring the culprits to justice all those involved in the fake encounter is something that's being eagerly watched.

The bottom line of this case is that the anti-Muslim program policy adopted by Gujarat Government after the ill-fated Godhara train tragedy continued beyond post Godhra communal riots in 2002, and Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case in 2004 is the case in point.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com


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