He was also one of the first officers to report that the Godhra train burning incident – wherein a mob torched a coach of Sabarmati Express near Godhra railway station and 59 persons were charred to death – in February 2002 could trigger retaliatory violence, which, as we now know, led to the deaths of almost 1,000 people – most of them who were Muslims and some Hindus.
On 25 June this year, a First Information Report (FIR) was filed against activist-journalist Teesta Setalvad, former Gujarat state Director General of Police RB Sreekumar, and Bhatt.
The trio have been accused of allegedly abusing the process of law by conspiring to fabricate evidence to frame "innocent" people in connection with the Gujarat riots.
The FIR came close on the heels of the Supreme Court quashing a petition filed by Zakia Jafri, who had challenged the clean chit given to Prime Minister Narendra Modi by an independent SIT in connection with the riots.
Zakia is the widow of Ehsan Jafri, a Congress MP who was killed in the Gulbarg Society massacre during the riots in 2002.
When the riots took place in 2002, the Gujarat Police had received countrywide condemnation for not being able to prevent large-scale bloodshed despite intelligence tip offs.
Bhatt had sparked a controversy when he claimed that Narendra Modi, the then chief minister of Gujarat, had told senior police officials at his Gandhinagar residence on the night of 27 February 2002, that people should be allowed to "vent their anger against Muslims" for 72 hours to avenge the Godhra incident.
Bhatt's reports as an officer were presented before several commissions and courts as evidence of the state's alleged complicity and inaction during the riots.
He was also included as a key witness in Jafri's complaint in 2006.
Besides deposing before a Special Investigation Team (SIT) that was enquiring into allegations in Jafri's petition, Bhatt also filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court, alleging that the SIT was attempting to protect Modi and the other powers that be.
The SIT, however, dismissed his allegations and filed a closure report, giving a clean chit to Modi and other public functionaries of the state.
In 2015, Bhatt was removed from police service and was tried in cases filed against him by the Gujarat government. In its judgment, the court observed that Bhatt "hatched a political conspiracy, was tutored by certain NGOs, and was involved in politics of creating pressure."
The IPS officer is still considered to be one of the key witnesses of the state's alleged role in the 2002 violence.
Custodial Deaths Case Filed Against Bhatt
In 2019, a Jamnagar trial court convicted Bhatt and seven police officials for the alleged custodial torture of Prabhudas Vaishnani in 1990, which had caused his death.
Bhatt was sentenced to life imprisonment in the case, and was in judicial custody till the verdict was announced.
At the time, Bhatt was the additional superintendent of police of Jamnagar. He had arrested more than 130 people, including Vaishnani, from Jamjodhpur for alleged communal violence amid a nationwide strike called by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) against the arrest of LK Advani while he was conducting his rath yatra.
After Vaishnani's death, a case was filed against Bhatt by the former's family. The state government had refused to allow the prosecution of Bhatt in the case. However, after the former police official deposed in the Gujarat riots case in 2011 against Modi, the state withdrew Bhatt's protection. Subsequently, a court in Jamnagar sentenced him to life imprisonment.