Sanjiv Bhatt bail hearing: Kafka’s ‘The Trial’ revisited in Gujarat’s Palanpur
A 1998 petition restored, probing arrest of former IPS Sanjiv Bhatt , despite SC’s stayed proceedings in 2000. Imprisoned 75 days and hearing on the bail petition is unending
‘Kafkaesque’ is what best describes the plight of the ‘dismissed’ Indian Police Service officer Sanjiv Bhatt. He was dismissed from the services in 2015 for his alleged ‘absence without leave’ from his post and for using official vehicle to travel to Ahmedabad, when he was summoned by the SIT headed by former CBI director R.K. Raghavan and Justice Nanavati and Justice M.P. Shah’s Commission of Inquiry set up to investigate the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in the state.
Bhatt was posted in Junagadh as Principal of the Police Training College, had to leave station and travel to Ahmedabad to depose. His absence was cited as the reason for first suspending him and then for his dismissal from the service.
Bhatt was the only IPS officer of the Gujarat cadre who had testified in an affidavit before the Supreme Court that as an officer of the state Intelligence Bureau he was present in a meeting on February 27, 2002, when the then chief minister Narendra Modi directed police officers to take no action against Hindu mobs preparing to attack Muslims in retaliation to the burning of a Railway coach at Godhra in which 59 people were killed.
But dismissal from service was not the end of his despair. In June 2018, Justice J.B. Pardiwala of Gujarat High Court took cognisance of a petition filed in the year 1998 praying for a fresh inquiry into the arrest of one Sumer Singh Purohit of Rajasthan in a narcotics case in 1996.
Justice Pardiwala ordered a fresh investigation into the case by the Crime Branch. Three months later in September, Gujarat Police picked up Bhatt from his residence for questioning and formally arrested him in the evening. He was charged with falsely implicating Purohit in the case when he was Superintendent of Police at Palanpur.
Purohit had indeed been arrested in a narcotics case but was acquitted when witnesses failed to identify him in the TI parade. Charges against him were dropped once Police realised that it was a case of mistaken identity. But Purohit alleged that he had a property dispute with a relative of the then high court judge R.R. Jain which is why he was falsely implicated.
Not Purohit but one Inspector Vyas and Justice Jain in separate petitions in 1998 pleading for a fresh investigation.It was this petition that Justice Pardiwala took cognisance of in 2018.
Curiously, Gujarat Government had then defended Bhatt and other police officers up to the Supreme Court and argued that they were merely discharging their duties as police officers.
Even more curiously, 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.
Inside the jail and in the courtroom: A day spent at Palanpur last week turned out to be a surreal experience. Bhatt was produced before the district court in the afternoon. Clad in jeans and a white shirt, the former police officer looked sprightly and in good spirits. The reason was not far to seek because policemen kept clicking their heels and saluting him, as if he was still in service.
Though on the political front, Bhatt has kept a low profile, he is in close touch with non-BJP leaders from Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. He has been very active on social media. Bhatt has a very large following on Facebook and Twitter and has been very critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah
A policeman volunteered the information that Bhatt was a very effective and popular SP in the district. And when word spread in September that he had been lodged in Palanpur district jail, people thronged the prison, and some brought food from home.Some even offered to provide him with home cooked food every day.
The police officer apparently turned down the offers and opted to have food supplied to him as an undertrial. He also refused to accept pillows sent from his home in Ahmedabad.
Nonetheless, while the police have already filed a charge sheet in the case, Bhatt is unable to secure bail. Hearing of Bail petition since September 5: has been interrupted by the Gujarat government pleader during the hearing of the bail application of former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt reminds one of the famous dialogues “Tarikh Pe Tarikh” by Bollywood actor Sunny Deol who played the role of a lawyer in the blockbuster movie “Damini” to express his exasperation over the court falling prey to the delaying tactics adopted by Amrish Puri, representing accused of gang rape of a maid.
The Palanpur district sessions court has been hearing the bail application of Bhatt, in jail since Septmber 5 after his arrest. The government pleader Mitesh Amin, opposing Bhatt’s bail application, has been arguing ad nauseam over the last four dates of hearing and has not concluded his case despite having been rebuked by the district judge for being repetitive.
It would be only after the government pleader is done with his argument that Bhatt’s lawyer would get the opportunity of presenting his case.In the meantime, the court will remain closed till November 25. Thus, the court order in Bhatt’s bail plea can come only sometime next week. Which means, Bhatt will remain in jail, as an undertrial prisoner for more than 80 days.
Though on the political front, Bhatt has kept a low profile, he is in close touch with non-BJP leaders from Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. He has been very active on social media. Bhatt has a very large following on Facebook and Twitter and has been very critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. On Facebook, Bhatt has 1,78,245 likes on his page besides 4,979 in his friends’ list. He has 3,94,000 followers on Twitter. Could it be his nuisance value on social media that has prompted the Gujarat Government to make an example of him? The strategy might just boomerang.