Bombay HC Holds Pradeep Sharma Guilty Of Lakhan Bhaiyya Fake Encounter, Sentences Him To Life Imprisonment

Bombay HC Holds Pradeep Sharma Guilty Of Lakhan Bhaiyya Fake Encounter, Sentences Him To Life Imprisonment

The high court on Tuesday set aside the order of acquittal of Sharma calling it perverse and said the trial court did not see overwhelming evidence against him.

Urvi Mahajani Charul Shah JoshiUpdated: Thursday, March 21, 2024, 02:54 PM IST
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Retired encounter specialist Pradeep Sharma | PTI

Mumbai: The Bombay high court on Tuesday convicted encounter specialist Pradeep Sharma in the 2006 fake encounter of Ramnarayan Gupta alias Lakkhan Bhaiyya, alleged aide of Chhota Rajan, and sentenced him to life in prison. The high court reversed Sharma’s acquittal by the sessions court observing that the same was “perverse and unsustainable” as it “ignored” the “overwhelming evidence” produced by the prosecution. The court has emphasised that a “squad”, although the same was banned by then commissioner of police, existed under Sharma which executed the encounter.

“The prosecution on its own steam and merit has also proved that Ramnarayan was killed by the police, by trigger happy cops, and the same was made to look like a genuine encounter,” a bench of Justices Revati Mohite-Dere and Gauri Godse said.

While allowing the appeal filed by the State government and Lakkhan Bhaiyya’s brother, advocate Ramprasad Gupta, challenging Sharma’s acquittal, the HC has asked Sahrma to surrender in three weeks. The high court convicted Sharma on all charges, including criminal conspiracy, murder, kidnapping and wrongful confinement, and sentenced him to life imprisonment.

The HC also upheld the convictions of 13 other accused, including 12 policemen and a civilian. The appeals by police inspector Arvind Sarvankar and one Janardan Bhange were abated since the two died in judicial custody during the pendency of the appeals.

'No Room For Leniency,' Says Bombay HC In Judgment

In a detailed 867-page judgment, the HC said that death in police custody must be curbed with a heavy hand, otherwise the same could lead to anarchy. “Death in police custody must be curbed with a heavy hand and must be viewed seriously. There can be no room for leniency as the persons involved i.e. the police, are the arm of the State, whose duty is to protect the citizens and not to take law into their hands and commit gruesome offences against them. The protectors/guardians of law cannot be permitted to act as criminals in uniform. If this is permitted, it would lead to anarchy,” the bench said.

"We find that the prosecution has proved beyond reasonable doubt that Ramnarayan was killed brutally in cold blood by the accused when he was in their custody and that to cover up the same, given it a colour of a genuine encounter," the high court added.

Reversing the trial court’s judgement, the HC noted that it overlooked “the overwhelming evidence available against Sharma. The common chain of evidence unerringly proves his involvement in the case”.

Special public prosecutor Rajiv Chavan, appearing for the state, submitted that the 2006 encounter had been staged. He further argued that after committing the “cold-blooded murder”, the police, who were custodians of law and order, also fabricated records to substantiate their claims of a “genuine encounter”. Further, Chavan said that the call data records and ballistic report showed that Sharma was at the spot of incident and that he had hatched a conspiracy to eliminate Lakkhan Bhaiyya.

The HC emphasised that the prosecution has proved through “cogent, legal and admissible evidence that a squad existed under Pradeep Sharma”. The trial court had disbelieved the existence of the squad by relying only on the evidence of then additional police commissioner of West Region Bipin Bihari, despite there being “overwhelming evidence of other witnesses as well as documentary evidence”, the HC said.

“We find that the prosecution has proved the existence of a squad, albeit illegal, under OA1 (Sharma), by adducing oral and documentary evidence,” the bench noted.

The trial court had relied on the ballistic report while convicting the policemen but the same evidence was discarded with regard to Sharma’s involvement. Based on three empty shells recovered from Lakhan Bhaiyya’s body, the ballistic expert testified that one of the bullets was fired from Sharma’s service revolver. The trial court discarded evidence against Sharma saying that the “ballistic evidence by itself was a weak piece of evidence, in the absence of any corroboration to the same”.

The HC noted that it does not find ballistic evidence “to be a weak piece of evidence” and its report revealed that one of the bullets was fired from Sharma’s revolver.

The judges have emphasised that apart from the ballistic evidence, there are other circumstances/evidence, which are clearly overlooked by the trial Court including the existence of a squad and that Sharma was using a mobile phone which was in the name of another accused, and that he was in touch with other accused.

The HC also relied on the statement of Aruna, Anil Bheda’s wife, where she said said that Anil had informed her that he and Lakkhan Bhaiyya were abducted by Sharma’s men and taken to DN Nagar police stations and he was saved because one AT Patil had come to meet him.

About Lakkhan Bhaiya Fake Encounter

On November 11, 2006, a police team picked up Ram Narayan Gupta alias Lakkhan Bhaiya, from neighbouring Vashi on the suspicion that he was a member of Chota Rajan gang, along with his friend Anil Bheda, and killed Gupta in a "fake" encounter near Nana Nani Park in suburban Versova in Western Mumbai on the same evening. According to prosecution, Bheda was initially detained at D N Nagar police station in Versova and was later shifted to Kolhapur. He was subsequently brought back to Mumbai and was detained for about a month. Soon thereafter, Ramprasad Gupta approached the HC alleging police had in fact murdered his brother. In February 2008, the High Court ordered a magisterial inquiry which concluded that it was a "cold-blooded" murder.

In March 2011, Bheda was abducted and murdered. His charred remains were found near Manor in rural Thane. Bheda’s murder remains unsolved.

In 2014, the sessions court had convicted 21 persons including 13 policemen and sentenced them to life imprisonment on charges of murder of Lakkhan Bhaiyya. Encounter specialist Pradeep Sharma was acquitted in the case.

The high court conducted regular hearings on the appeals from July to November last year and reserved its judgment. It perused nearly 17,000 pages of records and proceedings before the sessions court consisting of nearly 57 volumes of documents.

Notably, Sharma is at present out on bail in a case registered by the National Investigation Agency in connection with the Antilia terror threat case and the murder of businessman Mansukh Hiran. He was granted bail by the Supreme Court last August.

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