Dismissed Gujarat cadre IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt, who had testified against the then chief minister Narendra Modi that he had instructed police officers not to take action against rampaging mobs targeting Muslims after the 2002 Godhra train burning incident, has been sentenced to life imprisonment in a custodial death case of 1990.
Bhatt was posted as the Assistant Superintendent of Police in Jamnagar when he and his team had taken 133 people into custody for rioting during a Bharat Bandh. The detainees included a man named Prabhudas Madhavji Vaishnani who was kept in custody for nine days. Ten days after being released on bail, Vaishnani died. The cause of death was given as renal failure.
But Vaishnani’s brother alleged custodial torture following which an FIR was filed. A magistrate took cognisance of the case in 1995, but trial was stayed by the Gujarat High Court. The trial remained stayed till 2011 after which the stay was vacated and the trial commenced. The Jamnagar Sessions Court found Sanjiv Bhatt guilty and sentenced him to life imprisonment.
Bhatt had demanded that additional witnesses be examined in the case. Of the 300 witnesses listed, only 32 were examined. Bhatt had filed an application under Section 311 of the CrPC, but the magistrate dismissed it. Bhatt challenged it in the High Court which permitted the examination of three investigating officers.
Bhatt is already in Palanpur sub jail as an under trial prisoner in a 1996 drug planting case in which his bail was recently denied.
How could Bhatt be posted on sensitive positions like in the Intelligence department of the state police even after allegation of custodial death and falsely implicating a person in a drug peddling case were pending against him for more than two decades? In fact, the state government itself had given him clean chit in both the cases long time back.
In the drug planting case, Gujarat Government had defended Bhatt and other police officers up to the Supreme Court and argued that they were merely discharging their duties as police officers.
The Supreme Court had apparently stayed proceedings against Bhatt and others in 2000. However, the case was revived after 20 years (after 1998) of the petition and 22 years of the incident itself calling for an investigation of the petition itself.
In the custodial death case of Jamnagar, the state CID Crime branch of Gujarat police, asked to inquire, had found no evidence against Bhatt who continued to serve the police in various senior positions.
However, Bhatt committed a greater ‘crime’ in the eyes of the then chief minister Modi when he on April 14, 2011, filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court stating that he was present at a high level meeting on the night of February 27, 2002 convened by Modi. Top police officials including then Director General of Police K Chakravarthi were present in the meeting.
Bhatt claimed that at this meeting Modi allegedly instructed top police officials to allow Hindu mobs to vent their anger on Muslims in wake of the Godhra train burning incident. He also claimed that Modi paid no heed to concerns about allowing the bodies of the victims to be carried in processions lest it lead to inciting communal violence.
Bhatt was serving at the time as the Deputy Commissioner in the State Intelligence Bureau. Bhatt claims he was asked to attend the meeting by the state Control Room because his immediate superior GC Raigar, who was the Additional Director General of Police (Intelligence) was on leave that day.
Bhatt had also accused the Supreme Court appointed Special Investigative Team (SIT), formed to probe the 2002 post Godhra anti-Muslim pogrom, of giving a clean chit to Modi.