Mumbai: Twelve years after the alleged staged encounter of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, the case is back to square one. The question still begging to be answered is: Who killed Sohrabuddin, his wife Kausar Bi and aide Tulsiram Prajapati?
The question remains unanswered, after a special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court on Friday acquitted 22 policemen of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh. The 22 officers were arrested for conspiring and eliminating Sohrabuddin, his wife and associate. Sohrabuddin was a henchman based in Madhya Pradesh, Kausar Bi was his wife and Tulsiram was his associate. Sohrabuddin was an extortionist and had links with underworld.
This case had major political overtones from the beginning with the prosecution arresting 38 accused, including BJP leader Amit Shah. However, in the last six years, this case, with its ‘chequered history,’ has seen several accused being given a clean chit by the special court. On Friday, the remaining 22 policemen, too, were let off by the court in its final ruling.
The special Judge, Sunil Sharma, pronounced the verdict in an ‘unusual’ manner in a jam packed courtroom. The pronouncement was more on the lines of a press conference, with the judge citing reasons based on which, he let off all the 22 policemen. He did not pronounce the judgement.
Judge Sharma was a much rehearsed man who came half an hour late to deliver the verdict. He spelt out the summary of the judgement within five minutes. While addressing the courtroom, Judge Sharma said, “The very foundation of the prosecution case itself has not been proven. The entire case has fallen flat as there was no satisfactory evidence on record.”
“The circumstantial evidence is not corroborated by any of the witnesses or documents. The majority of the witnesses have turned hostile,” Judge Sharma said. In his briefing to the court, Sharma further said that the CBI theory regarding kidnapping of Sohrabuddin, Prajapati and Kausar Bi lacked corroboration. “The abduction theory is false. There is no independent witness to substantiate this contention of the CBI. The statements of a few witnesses in this regard are nothing but hearsay and the same cannot be relied upon,” he held.
The judge, however, held that Sohrabuddin and others died a homicidal death. But he refused to link their deaths to the two encounters in which Sohrabuddin and Prajapati were killed. “The homicidal death of all the deceased is certain. Sohrabuddin and Tulsiram died because of bullet injuries; however, whether these accused are the authors or not, is not proven. I have not found any substantiate evidence in this regard,” Judge Sharma concluded.
Sharma further pointed out the CBI did not follow the due procedures in seizing the weapons of the accused. “In fact, the CBI did not prove whether the seized weapons were the service pistols of the accused,” he added. “The nexus between all the accused has not come up. Thus, I acquit all the 22 accused from all the charges.”
This grabbed eyeballs after the prosecution witnesses continued to turn hostile on a daily basis. In the one-year of this trial, 92 prosecution witnesses turned hostile, out of the total 210 examined by the court. Some witnesses, including the mother of Prajapati and also the brother of Sohrabuddin, chose not to depose before the court, claiming they have ‘no trust’ in the court as well as the prosecution.
There was earlier an “arbitrary” order passed by Judge Sharma, restraining the media from covering the court proceedings in November 2017. The same was junked by the Bombay High Court. Sohrabuddin was killed in a fake encounter in November 2005 along with his wife, after the couple was allegedly abducted by police officers of Gujarat and Rajasthan, at the behest of senior IPS officers of the states. His associate, Prajapati was killed a year later.