Sohrabuddin case: All 22 accused, including 21 cops, acquitted
Mumbai: A special CBI court here Friday acquitted all the 22 accused in the alleged fake encounter killings of gangster Sohrabuddin Shaikh, his wife Kausar Bi and his aide Tulsi Prajapati, citing 'insufficient evidence'.
Special CBI Judge S J Sharma in his ruling said the court felt sorry for the families of Shaikh and Prajapati as "three lives were lost". But the system demands that the court go solely by evidence, he added.
All the accused were out on bail during the year-long trial.
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.
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.
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. The Supreme Court in 2013 directed that the trial be shifted to Mumbai from Gujarat on the central agency's request to ensure a fair trial.
According to the CBI, Shaikh, an alleged gangster, his wife Kausar Bi and his aide Prajapati were abducted by Gujarat police from a bus when they were on their way to Sangli in Maharashtra from Hyderabad on the night of November 22-23, 2005.
Shaikh was killed in an alleged fake encounter on November 26, 2005 near Ahmedabad, while his wife was killed three days later and her body disposed of, the CBI had said.
It said that a year later, on December 27, 2006, Prajapati was also shot dead by the Gujarat and Rajasthan police in an alleged fake encounter near Chapri on the Gujarat-Rajasthan border.
Though Vanzara is not facing trial in the case owing to his discharge in August 2017, the judge said it was improbable that Vanzara had any knowledge of the alleged conspiracy.
The CBI had claimed that Vanzara had summoned Gujarat IPS Ashish Pandya while the latter was on leave, to be part of Prajapati's alleged encounter.
"The CBI failed to produce any substantial evidence, phone records etc to prove that Vanzara called Pandya for this specific purpose. There is nothing to conclude that Vanzara had any knowledge of the alleged conspiracy," the court said.
Shaikh's brother Rubabuddin, who was present in court Friday, said he was dispappointed at the verdict and would appeal against it in the Supreme Court.
After the judge pronounced the verdict, all the accused, who were present in court, congratulated and hugged each other with relief writ large on their faces.