Sitting on the truth (SIT).
Sitting on the truth
The several failures of the Special Investigation Team appointed to reinvestigate nine major cases
of violence that occurred in Gujarat 2002
BY TEESTA SETALVAD
When the Supreme Court appointed the Special Investigation Team on March 26, 2008, victim survivors and human rights groups were hopeful that justice would finally see the light of day. The trials of nine of the worst cases of violence that occurred during the 2002 carnage in Gujarat had been stayed by an order of the apex court five years earlier, on November 21, 2003. It was affidavits filed by victim survivors pointing out the farcical investigations carried out by the Gujarat police, the hasty and irregular granting of bail to powerful accused and the dropping of names of the accused who were close to the police or the political establishment that had led the court to take this historic step.
In its report in 2002, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had severely indicted the government of Gujarat for complicity in the state-sponsored carnage and recommended that these nine cases, as well as the Best Bakery case, be investigated not by the state police but by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Following the sensational disclosures in the Best Bakery case in 2003, the NHRC had approached the Supreme Court for a transfer of these cases along with the Best Bakery case for trial/retrial outside Gujarat. A year earlier, basing their petition on the NHRC’s recommendations, several citizens, including DN Pathak (former president of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Gujarat) and myself (Teesta Setalvad, secretary, Citizens for Justice and Peace – CJP) had approached the apex court in May 2002, asking for a transfer of investigation to the CBI.
Five years and many hiccups later, the Supreme Court granted the transfer of investigation in these crucial cases not to the CBI, as pleaded for by the victim survivors and petitioners, but to a specially constituted Special Investigation Team (SIT). In its judgement appointing the SIT, the Supreme Court had observed, “Communal harmony is the hallmark of democracy… If in the name of religion people are killed, that is a slur and blot on democracy.” In January 2008 even the centre had backed the petitioners’ demand for a transfer of the investigation to the CBI.
The apex court asked Dr RK Raghavan, a former director of the CBI, to head the SIT and also named a retired senior police officer, CB Satpathy, to assist in carrying out this historic task. As to the rest of the team members, a hasty agreement by the apex court to suggestions made by the state of Gujarat (itself accused of grave interference in the investigations) and the amicus curiae, Harish Salve, has, two years later, proved to have been a serious mistake.
In March 2008 survivor-eyewitnesses and citizens’ groups had objected to the appointment of Shivanand Jha to the team. Jha had occupied a senior post in the Ahmedabad police force during the 2002 carnage and was therefore accountable for the breakdown of law and order in that city. Promoted to home secretary by the Narendra Modi administration in subsequent years, he had actively opposed all pleas for transfer of investigation in these cases. Moreover, Jha is among the accused in the Zakiya Ahsan Jaffri/CJP criminal complaint of mass murder and conspiracy against Modi and 61 other accused. The Supreme Court, by an order dated April 27, 2009, directed the SIT to probe into this complaint. AK Malhotra, a retired CBI official, is handling this high-profile investigation.
Indian Police Service officer Geeta Johri is another SIT member who was recommended by the state of Gujarat and Salve. The apex court itself has now found her wanting in the Sohrabuddin murder investigation (the extrajudicial killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, his wife, Kauser, and an eyewitness to the murder, Tulsiram Prajapati). In its verdict dated January 12, 2010, the apex court indicted Johri for concealing evidence and not investigating phone records of the accused. It was only the raw courage of her junior colleague, Rajnish Rai, that led, in April 2007, to the arrest of former deputy inspector-general of police (DIG), DG Vanzara, for his involvement in the crime.
Ashish Bhatia, the third IPS officer who is part of the SIT has been put in charge of both the Gulberg Society and the Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gaon investigations. He has been responsible for filing incomplete charge sheets and, even more seriously, of pressurising the special public prosecutor (special PP) in the Gulberg case to function unprofessionally against the interests of the prosecution.
Now, two years after the SIT’s appointment, the apex court has found that serious allegations by CJP and victim survivors of deliberately weak and unprofessional investigations by the SIT are not without merit. Compelled by the evidence placed before it, the Supreme Court needs to look again at the team’s composition.
Next month (April) the apex court will hear an application for reconstitution of the SIT due largely to the complete failure of this specially created body to do any justice to the complex and challenging investigations. The solicitor general, Gopal Subramanium, along with Harish Salve has been asked by the court to assist it in arriving at a decision in the matter.
During the period between the time when CJP first filed the application for reconstitution of the SIT (October 23, 2009) and the time of the apex court’s decision to hear the matter in toto (March 15, 2010) significant developments on the ground have confirmed the petitioners’ opinion that not much has changed on the ground in the state of Gujarat. Special courts hearing the nine trials, which began examination of witnesses, have shown increasing hostility towards the survivor-eyewitnesses.
The worst has been the conduct of the trial court judge in the trial of the Gulberg Society massacre case, in which former parliamentarian Ahsan Jaffri and 68 others were slaughtered in broad daylight. Judge BU Joshi has been humiliating eyewitnesses in open court with sarcastic comments and even refused them permission for dock-eye identification of accused (walking up to the accused enclosure to identify them). This has compelled eyewitnesses, backed by CJP, to seek transfer of the case from the court of this judge.
In a dramatic development, the special public prosecutor, RK Shah, resigned from his post on February 25, 2010 after blaming the judge, in writing, of rank bias. As bad or worse, the letter also accuses SIT member Ashish Bhatia of pressurising Shah to tilt the prosecution against the eyewitnesses (see box, ‘Special public prosecutor resigns’).
Soon after its appointment in 2008, the SIT began its investigations in May 2008. Detailed statements of eyewitnesses, rights groups and others were recorded by officials of the Gujarat police hand-picked by the SIT triumvirate (Jha, Johri and Bhatia) who were also part of the state police. Right from the start there was marked hostility towards those eyewitnesses and survivors whose petition in the apex court had led to the constitution of the SIT in the first place.
Committed to the directives of the apex court, survivors and groups like CJP meticulously recorded their disenchantment with the SIT’s functioning but maintained a discreet silence in public. It was only after charge sheets were filed by the SIT that the enormity of their failure, painstakingly documented over months, was placed before the Supreme Court through a special application on October 23, 2009.
On May 1, 2009 the apex court had finally lifted the stay order on the nine trials and ordered the setting up of special courts and the appointment of prosecutors of high standing and integrity for a day-to-day trial. (Shortly before this, the state of Gujarat had unsuccessfully attempted baseless charges against CJP’s secretary, Teesta Setalvad, and lawyer, MM Tirmizi.)
The SIT was given extraordinary powers enabling it to provide full protection to witnesses and to monitor the trials, ensuring that the conduct of the courts was judicious and that the special PPs chosen were men or women of integrity. Ten months later it can safely be stated that the SIT has entirely failed in its responsibility to the apex court. It has failed in its duty to oversee a professional and non-partisan investigation just as it has failed in its responsibility to ensure free and fair trials in Gujarat.
From June 2008 onwards, while recording the statements of eyewitnesses, police officials deputed by the SIT, cross-examined witnesses as if they were defence counsel rather than an investigating team recording the statements of key eyewitnesses, statements that would be crucial in the subsequent prosecution. This attitude was objected to in writing. Neither of the two senior officers (Raghavan and Satpathy) hand-picked by the apex court to head the SIT was available to hear the complaints of witness survivors.
In November 2008, as officers from the lower echelons of the Gujarat police began to harass witnesses with further interrogations on specific aspects of their statements, especially concerning some of the more well-connected accused, CJP urged Raghavan, in writing, to record statements of key witnesses under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), before a judicial magistrate, to reduce the chances of a witness turning hostile. The SIT chief saw no merit in the suggestion.
The SIT attached no value to the affidavits of eyewitnesses and survivors that had been submitted to the apex court or other authorities since 2002. Never mind that it was these affirmed testimonies that had prompted the apex court to intervene in the first instance. Not only were witnesses grilled by the SIT about these affidavits, the affidavits did not form part of the charge sheet filed by the SIT.
In the Gulberg massacre case – 69 persons massacred in broad daylight, including former parliamentarian Ahsan Jaffri – arguably the strongest of all the cases in the ongoing trials, the SIT had excelled itself. One set of statements had been recorded by SIT officials in May-June 2008 at its specially appointed premises in Gandhinagar. Mysteriously, four months later the investigating officer (IO), JM Suthar, appointed by Ashish Bhatia, summoned some of the witnesses to another location, the Special Operations Group (SOG) office in Juhapura. Agitated witnesses complained about this to CJP which in turn complained about this conduct in writing to the SIT chief, Raghavan.
Undeterred, the SIT used this occasion to conjure up a false set of statements during September 2008, which utterly diluted the first set of statements made by witnesses to the SIT. When the crucial eyewitnesses began deposing before the trial court from November 2, 2009 onwards, each one of them denied ever having recorded a second statement.
A close scrutiny of the testimonies of witnesses in the Gulberg massacre case reveals that the investigation by the SIT (aimed to weaken its own prosecution case) has been torn to shreds. Witnesses have with tremendous courage and dignity testified to the truth which the SIT clearly wanted to suppress.
Ironically, it is when witnesses in the Gulberg and Sardarpura cases showed adherence to the truth despite these pressures, and even deposed (in the Gulberg case) about the abuse heaped by the chief minister, Narendra Modi, on Ahsan Jaffri before he was killed on February 28, 2002, that the attitudes of the trial court judges turned hostile. Inexplicably, witnesses were not allowed to step out of the witness box to identify the accused (located 25-30 feet away). Applications to the court to order further investigation where the SIT had failed were suddenly refused.
There appears to be a clear understanding and collusion between the investigating agency and some of the judicial officers hearing the trials, which raises serious concerns about due process and transparency. The fact that this can happen even with the apex court keeping a sharp eye on these investigations speaks volumes about the Gujarat state’s (the SIT and some judges included) adherence to constitutional governance or lack thereof.
There are six broad areas that show up the investigations by the SIT as being unprofessional and inadequate:
ط One. Absent are investigations into the charges of complicity or inaction of police officers, especially seniors or those who are the favourites of politicians, civil servants, ministers and politically influential individuals, in these grave offences.
For example, there is documentary evidence of the active connivance of Ahmedabad’s former joint commissioner of police (JCP), MK Tandon. The SIT has simply left this aspect uninvestigated. Witnesses, including police witnesses, have deposed about his visit to Gulberg Society around 10:30 a.m. on February 28, 2002, accompanied by a fully equipped strike force capable of and armed to deal with a violent mob. Though he sees a gathering and restive mob, he leaves the spot; his juniors have wondered why he left the place without leaving the mob-control force behind. He moves to the Naroda area, where a full-scale attack is also underway, but vanishes from there too, his force in tow. Why?
At least four eyewitnesses from Gulberg have testified to Tandon’s callous role in destroying evidence. Around 5:30 p.m. on the evening of the bestial attack, when they were being rescued by a police van, survivors Saeed Khan Pathan and Imtiaz Khan Pathan asked if they could take the bodies of their near and dear ones, who had been raped and killed, with them. “You look after yourself, we’ll take care of the dead,” Tandon told them. The bodies of the 69 persons killed, naked and butchered, were still recognisable at the time.
However, when they buried their relatives at the Kalandari Masjid Kabrastan on March 3, 2002, these bodies had been reduced to ashes. Is Tandon not culpable of allowing this to happen after 5:30 p.m. that fateful day? But Tandon’s actions on that day have not been questioned by the SIT.
Worse still, the special PP in the Gulberg trial, RK Shah’s resignation letter reveals that Tandon’s evidence in court was rushed through without documents being supplied to the PP. Call records of his mobile phone show that Tandon visited Naroda Patiya after speaking to PC Pande, the then commissioner of police (CP), Ahmedabad. Once there, he found the crowd restive and was thus compelled to order a curfew, at 12:29 p.m. (Why curfew was not ordered until so much later remains a mystery.) He left the area at 12:33 p.m. without ensuring that his curfew orders had been acted upon. Naroda went up in flames soon thereafter.
Similarly, the former deputy mayor of Ahmedabad and an influential lawyer, Jagrup Sinh Rajput, who has been named by witnesses in their earlier statements and again in court, as also Manish Patel, the son of a BJP corporator, have escaped the SIT net.
In the Naroda Patiya massacre, although numerous witnesses have referred to police inspector (PI) KK Mysorewala (now a deputy superintendent of police – DySP) ordering police firing on Muslims after discussions with former minister, Maya Kodnani (she was an MLA in 2002), he has not been arraigned. Incidentally, Maya Kodnani was arrested following investigations by the SIT in the early phases. According to witnesses, Mysorewala is said to have told those seeking protection that there were instructions/orders from higher authorities not to protect the targeted: “There is no order to save Muslims, you have to die today.”
The SIT has also ignored several other witness statements charging State Reserve Police (SRP) personnel, especially SRP officer, KP Parekh, with firing on fleeing Muslim victims, encouraging the mob to attack Muslims and categorically refusing to protect Muslims. Parekh too had told the hapless victims: “Today you have to die. No one can save you. We will never save you. We have orders from higher authorities to kill you.” Despite the witness statements recorded by the SIT that indict Parekh, he has not been made an accused.
ط Two. The SIT has deliberately avoided investigating the carefully planned build-up of arsenal, men and arms, in the state prior to the Godhra tragedy of February 27, 2002. This stockpiling of bombs, swords, gas cylinders and chemical powders in preparation for the carnage that followed Godhra has been exposed both in Tehelka’s sting ‘Operation Kalank’ and the affidavits filed by former additional director general of police (ADGP), RB Sreekumar, before the Nanavati-Shah Commission. Now, eight months after the trials began, this ominous build-up is being corroborated by testimonies of eyewitnesses, leading to the inevitable question of whether this omission by the SIT is part of a planned effort not to probe the sinister build-up in Gujarat prior to February 27, 2002.
Any exploration of this could expose once and for all the ‘conspiracy’ theory behind Godhra, which has been used by Narendra Modi’s government, and Hindutva, to justify the post-Godhra genocidal carnage. Interestingly, as far as the Godhra trial is concerned, the SIT has swallowed the state’s ‘conspiracy’ theory hook, line and sinker and has not even bothered to file a fresh charge sheet.
At least three prosecution witnesses among those examined so far, including Sabir Hakumiya and Ibrahimiya Rasoomiya, in their statements before the SIT and in testimonies before the court, have named the sarpanch of Sardarpura, Kanu Joita Patel, the then minister for transport, Narayan Lallu Patel, and Haresh Bhatt, former MLA from Godhra, as inciting mobs and distributing arms. At least eight witness statements recorded by the SIT suggest that prior to the incident of March 1, 2002, signs of a build-up were evident. Yet the SIT has chosen not to investigate this matter. Obviously, the SIT simply does not want to go into this crucial aspect of the Gujarat 2002 carnage. The SIT probe team is apparently jittery and evasive about delving into the sinister plan behind this build-up, suggesting collusion with the Gujarat state administration.
ط Three. The SIT has been reluctant to properly investigate documentary evidence, including phone call records, mobile van records, control room registers and fire brigade registers. A scrutiny of these would indicate the levels and extent of preplanning and conspiracy involved in the post-Godhra violence.
In spite of cries for help, as is evident from the hours and hours of phone call records, no help came to Gulberg Society where 69 Muslims were burnt or hacked to death over a period of 11 hours. The SIT wholly failed to inquire into/investigate the circumstances in which repeated calls for police assistance went unheeded. In this case, the SIT has arraigned 25 persons, including KG Erda, the then inspector of the Meghaninagar police station, who was in the area at the time of the carnage. Erda’s phone records show that during the hours of the carnage on February 27-28, 2002 he made several calls to the police control room, the police commissioner, PC Pande, JCP MK Tandon and deputy commissioner of police (DCP) PB Gondia.
While the SIT has interrogated Tandon, it has taken no appropriate action, say the petitioners. In fact, Tandon admitted before the Nanavati Commission that he had been informed that Ahsan Jaffri was in danger. Pande, the records show, had even visited Jaffri and told him that police protection would be provided. Phone records show that both Tandon and Pande were in touch with the police officers in the riot-hit areas.
Yet Jaffri was killed. The petitions point out that records show that Jaffri made nearly 200 calls for assistance. Some of these were to the police control room. At the time cabinet ministers Ashok Bhatt and IK Jadeja were in the control room but no one helped Jaffri.
An analysis of the phone calls made to and from the phone of PI KK Mysorewala (who has mysteriously not been made an accused) shows that he received a call from Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Jaideep Patel, an accused in the Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gaon cases. The timing of the call, as recorded, was when the massacre was at its worst. The SIT has not thought it necessary to obtain records of mobile phone calls made by senior and local police officials in the Sardarpura and Odh massacres either.
One of the most chilling revelations came to light after CJP conducted a citizen’s investigation into the record of five lakh phone calls and submitted its findings to the SIT. These records pinpoint the location of police officials and key men belonging to the chief minister’s coterie at Meghaninagar, where Gulberg Society is located, and at Narol, in the Naroda area, a day before the carnage i.e. February 27, 2002. The presence of key members of the Narendra Modi administration and some police officers at Naroda and Meghaninagar on February 27 is especially noteworthy because it raises questions with regard to the state of Gujarat’s blithe claims, made in all official statements, that there was inadequate force deployment in Meghaninagar and Naroda because these were not traditionally communally sensitive areas. Why then were key members of the Modi coterie present in the very localities where mass carnage was orchestrated the next day?
An analysis of the locational details of some of Gujarat’s politically powerful persons makes chilling reading. On the day of the Godhra incident (February 27), around the time when the chief minister was in Godhra, planning to bring the charred bodies of the train fire victims to Ahmedabad, itself a highly questionable decision, the then minister for health, Ashok Bhatt, was present at Narol, in the Naroda area, at the unearthly hour of 5:10 a.m. Why? (Bhatt has been accused of sitting in the Ahmedabad city police control room the next day with the specific task of preventing the police from doing their duty,)
The next day (February 28), before he had parked himself in the police control room at 9:55 a.m., his mobile phone location places Bhatt at Narol, in the Naroda area. This was around the time the massacre began. While he is there, he receives a few crucial calls. One of them is from Tanmay Mehta, personal assistant (PA) to the chief minister, who was also at Naroda, at 4:03 p.m. that day. Why? Another PA to the chief minister, OP Singh, also calls Bhatt and is also in the area, at around 4 p.m. that afternoon. Two other influential persons present at Naroda on the evening of February 28 were Ashok Narayan, the then additional chief secretary, home (around 5:41 p.m.) and IK Jadeja, the then minister for urban development (around 5:35 p.m.). (Jadeja has also been accused of sitting in the state police control room at Gandhinagar throughout the day.)
Equally sinister is the presence of political bigwigs in Meghaninagar where Gulberg Society is located. Ashok Bhatt was present in and around the Shayona Plaza, a building in the area owned by influential businessman, Ghanshyam Patel, at 3:48 p.m. on February 27, 2002. Anil Mukim, additional principal chief secretary to the chief minister, was also in the area, at 3:33 p.m. Mukim was also in the same area at 4 p.m. and then again at 10 p.m. that night. Others present at Meghaninagar on the day the chief minister was in Godhra include OP Singh, PA to the chief minister, at 3:48:16; PK Mishra, principal secretary to the chief minister, at 3:48 p.m.; and Tanmay Mehta, PA to the chief minister, at 3:35 p.m. Interestingly, among the policemen found to have been in the same area on February 27 is PB Gondia, DCP, Zone IV, who is there at 00:36 i.e. early in the morning of February 28. On the day of the massacres at Gulberg Society, Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gaon, IK Jadeja was in the Meghaninagar area at 3:56 p.m. while Gujarat’s minister of state for home, Gordhan Zadaphiya, was there at 5 p.m.
ط Four. The SIT has shown itself to be no better than the Gujarat police in its failure to apply for cancellation of bail for powerful accused responsible for the post-Godhra violence – despite clear-cut directions in the Supreme Court order that it may do so (see box, ‘Post-Godhra accused out on bail’). The discriminatory bail patterns related to Gujarat 2002 have been and remain a cause for considerable concern.
Eighty-six of those accused in the Godhra train burning incident have been in jail without bail for the past eight years. During this matter’s six-year history before the Supreme Court, CJP and the amicus curiae, Harish Salve, had on several occasions pointed out with documentary support that even the Gujarat high court had routinely granted bail to people like Babu Bajrangi Patel and others accused of mass rape and murder. In some cases, like the Odh massacre case, the accused were even granted anticipatory bail without any objections being raised by the special public prosecutors. The SIT has fallen in line with this discriminatory practice and allowed those accused of mass rape, murder and conspiracy to roam free while the trials are on.
This has meant that a person like Babu Bajrangi Patel, accused number one in the Naroda Patiya massacre – who proudly told Tehelka on camera that he was the one who slit open the womb of Kauser Bano, pulled out a live male foetus and proceeded to dismember it with a sword – roams free in Ahmedabad. More than half a dozen witnesses have named Bajrangi in their statements before the SIT.
It also means that Suresh Langda Richard Chhara – who boasted to Tehelka that he was responsible for multiple rapes of girls and women at Patiya and for which he was garlanded and congratulated by Narendra Modi on the evening of February 28, 2002 – also roams free on the streets of Ahmedabad while the trial continues and witnesses depose against him within the court.
In the charge sheet filed by the SIT itself, 53 witnesses have named Suresh Langda Richard Chhara as instigating the mob to rape, kill and burn Muslims and as being directly involved in murder and rape. As many as 15 witnesses have named Babu Bajrangi Patel as the leader of the mob that slaughtered 95 people, as having personally killed several and as having cut open the stomach/womb of Kauser Bano and killed the foetus. Despite this, the SIT has not moved the court for cancellation of his bail. He roams free today and continues to threaten and intimidate victims and witnesses. What’s more, he has even been allowed to go abroad.
Incidentally, Babu Bajrangi Patel had also stated, on videotape to Tehelka, that he had been protected/housed by the chief minister, Narendra Modi, in a state government guest house at Mount Abu, that his bail had been managed and that judges had been changed to ensure that he was granted bail. He stated that after Justice Dholakia had refused him bail, his case was brought before Justice Akshay Mehta in order to ensure that bail was granted. Apparently, there has been no investigation/inquiry into these aspects by the SIT. Justice Akshay Mehta now assists Justice Nanavati in probing the cause of the 2002 violence.
ط Five. The SIT has failed to take adequate steps to prevent threats to and intimidation of witnesses. The most shocking aspect of this has been the actual involvement of SIT-deputed officials, Noel Parmar and JR Mothaliya, in the kidnapping and torture of Ilyas Hussain Mulla, a prosecution witness in the Godhra train burning case (see accompanying story, ‘Kidnapping and torture’).
In fact, in the ongoing trial of the Godhra train burning case, the SIT has fully endorsed the theory put forward by the Gujarat police and has not probed at all into the revelations made through Tehelka’s ‘Operation Kalank’. In this sting operation, witnesses stated on camera that they had been bribed by the Gujarat police to speak in favour of the police’s “conspiracy” theory. Whatever the facts of the matter, given the sensitivities involved in the case, the SIT ought to have investigated these allegations thoroughly and not left this unexplored.
Initially, Noel Parmar, a police officer accused of complicity, was given several extensions even after his retirement from the Gujarat police. The SIT continued to use his services as well and he was only removed from the team after an uproar in the media. And although the special PP in this matter has been defending the state of Gujarat’s conspiracy theory as special PP since the start of the trial, the SIT has not seen fit to replace him, not even in the interests of transparency.
In CJP’s application in the apex court, asking for reconstitution of the SIT, it has been pointed out that the superintendent of police (SP), Panchmahal, JR Mothaliya, was holding witnesses to ransom and thereby trying to influence testimonies. In fact, the advocate for the accused, AA Hasan, had objected to his presence in court during the trial because as an investigating officer, he cannot be present in the courtroom when evidence is being recorded. The same Mothaliya is being accused of torturing a prosecution witness.
ط Six. The investigation carried out by the SIT fails to measure up to any standard of independence or professionalism because of its deliberate exclusion of key witnesses who have given statements earlier or those who should have been made witnesses in the nine cases.
In the cases relating to the Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gaon massacres, in which more than 110 persons were brutally murdered and several women and girls were raped, the SIT has simply not recorded the statements of 129 witnesses.
The utterly brazen manner in which the SIT has chosen not to include Rahul Sharma, former DCP, Crime Branch, Ahmedabad, as witness in the Gulberg massacre case, despite an application by CJP on November 14, 2009, makes its actions more and more suspicious. Sharma had been brought in as DCP in 2002, to be part of the investigations into the Gulberg, Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gaon cases which were then being investigated by the Crime Branch, Ahmedabad.
Sharma had collated the mobile phone records of the five lakh calls made during the relevant period (from two companies at the time – AT&T and Cellforce) and had submitted this, on CD, to his superiors. A copy was also submitted to the Nanavati-Shah Commission when Sharma deposed before it. In an application to the SIT on November 14, 2009, CJP and witnesses pointed out that the testimony of this officer and the evidence he had elicited and presented (also available with the SIT) would be critical in the Gulberg trial as well. Specifically, this evidence would be critical in corroborating phone calls made by the accused, influential politicians, victims, etc and in evaluating the effectiveness of the state’s response.
In a letter to the then police commissioner, KR Kaushik, dated June 4, 2002, a copy of which Sharma produced before the commission, he detailed the questionable manner in which investigations into these three cases were being carried out.
The SIT’s response to these requests demonstrates a studied unconcern. When asked about the phone records of Ahsan Jaffri, the SIT said that the records of phone calls made from the landline of the brutally slain former parliamentarian “have been destroyed”. Since November 2, 2009, at least three crucial eyewitnesses have deposed that Jaffri made frantic calls in vain. When he called the chief minister, he was abused by the latter, after which he decided to give himself up to the mob so that other innocent lives may be saved.
The SIT could have been systematic in its investigations and delved into how and why Jaffri’s records were destroyed, by whom and under whose instructions or orders. On May 9 and 28, 2008, when Teesta Setalvad deposed before the SIT, she had stressed the need for the SIT to investigate the contents of the CD and especially Jaffri’s phone records.
This reluctance on the part of the SIT to get to the bottom of critical communications between those in power, those in responsible positions of law enforcement and administration and key accused who guided, led attacks and ensured that killings, rape and arson took place appears to stem from a calculated design to shield, not punish, the guilty.
The SIT has been as tardy in investigating station diary entries, phone call records and fire brigade registers.
The singular lack of investigation has to be viewed in the context of the fact that the SIT’s main investigation officers, Geeta Johri, Shivanand Jha and Ashish Bhatia, are all Gujarat-cadre officers who were subordinate and answerable to those accused of mass murder and criminal conspiracy. They are also in the service of and under the control of the Gujarat government which, for obvious reasons, has resisted any form of investigation into the riots.
With the March 15 decision of the apex court to seriously investigate the allegations of unprofessional functioning by the SIT, hope has again blossomed for the beleaguered victims of the Gujarat carnage.