(This article was originally published on 14 February 2018. It is being re-posted from The Quint’s archives on the day 22 accused in the Sohrabuddin fake counter case were acquitted by a special CBI court.)
As many as 92 witnesses in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case turned hostile during cross-examination in the court.
The Quint has exclusively accessed the list of 30 prosecution witnesses who turned hostile while they were crossed examined before the CBI court in Mumbai.
On 23 November 2005, Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife Kausar Bi were travelling by bus from Hyderabad to Sangli in Mahrashtra. While on the way, the Gujarat Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) stopped the bus and abducted the couple. Three days later, on 26 November, Sohrabuddin was shot dead in what the police called an encounter, but it was later found to be fake by the investigators.
In total, several prosecution witnesses have deposed before the court since 29 November 2017. The same day, the special CBI court passed a gag order restraining media from reporting the case based on an application by the defence lawyer. On 24 January this year, the Bombay High Court struck down the gag order.
According to sources, all hostile witnesses are crucial, and some of them are also eyewitnesses in the case. Among these, five of their statements were recorded before a magistrate under Section 164 of the CrPC, while others had theirs recorded by the investigating agency.
Below are details of the testimony/statements of 13 crucial witnesses:
List of Hostile Witnesses
CBI’s claim: On 23 November 2005, Sohrabuddin Sheikh, his wife Kausar Bi, and associate Tulsiram Prajapati were travelling on a luxury bus from Hyderabad to Ahmedabad. At 1:30 am, the Gujarat ATS stopped the bus as Sangli and escorted the three persons off the bus. The agency relied on witnesses on board the same bus that night.
The Retraction: Passengers and Drivers Say They Never Saw Sohrabuddin and His Wife on the Bus to Sangli
- Sharad Krushnaji Apte was a passenger on the same bus in which Sohrabuddin, Kausar Bi, and Tulsiram Prajapati were travelling. He had earlier, in a statement recorded before a magistrate, said that he saw all three on the bus. But he retracted his statement in the CBI court and denied having seen them.
- Amit Sharad Apte was also a passenger on the same bus. He too retracted his earlier statement in which he said he saw Sohrabuddin, Kausar Bi and Tulsiram Prajapati.
- Misbah Hyder was the bus driver of the bus on which Sohrabuddin was travelling. He had earlier claimed that an SUV had stopped the bus and the police had taken away three persons. He now denies such an incident had taken place.
- Gazuddin Chabuksawar was a bus cleaner. He had earlier stated that the bus was stopped by the SUV and all three were taken away by the police. He, however, denied everything during cross examination.
- Mohammad Ahmed, owner of MJ Tourist – the company through which Sohrabuddin had booked the bus tickets for himself and his wife – also retracted his statement. He had earlier claimed that he had booked the bus tickets and that he had given a photocopy of the tickets to the CBI.
CBI’s Claim: The Gujarat ATS took Sohrabuddin Sheikh to a farmhouse where he was shot dead in what was later allegedly made to look like a police encounter.
The Retraction: Police Never Brought Sohrabuddin to Disha Farm, Say Farm Employees
- Girishbhai Patel was the owner of Disha Farm, near Gandhinagar, Gujarat, where all three (Sohrabuddin, his wife Kausar Bi and Tulsiram Prajapati) were taken by the police after they were allegedly abducted. As per Patel’s earlier statement, he said he gave his farmhouse for use upon the request of Constable Santram Sharma. Later, he retracted his statement before the court and said that his farmhouse was never used by anybody.
- Dineshbhai Patel, an employee of Disha Farm, had earlier stated that he gave the keys of the farmhouse to the police upon the request of Girishbhai. He had also stated that he saw an SUV reaching the farmhouse. However, he denied all of it during cross-examination.
- Naresh Patel, cousin of Girishbhai, earlier stated that he went to the Civil Hospital after the postmortem was conducted on Sohrabuddin. While showing the body, Constable Sharma informed Naresh that this man was kept in Disha Farm and was shot dead when he tried to escape. Sharma told Naresh that the man’s name was Sohrabuddin. However, Naresh turned hostile in the CBI court and said that he didn’t know Sohrabuddin was kept in Disha Farm. He also denied that the dead body he was shown was that of Sohrabuddin.
The Retraction: Sohrabuddin and His Wife Were Never Hosted in Hyderabad
Saleema Begum, the sister of Kalimuddin, an associate of Sohrabuddin, had stated to the investigating agency that her brother hosted Sohrabuddin and his wife in Hyderabad in mid-November 2005. It is from their house that Sohrabuddin and his wife left for Sangli.
Kalimuddin was also wanted in several criminal cases by the Andhra Pradesh Police. But during cross-examination, Saleema denied even having met Sohrabuddin and Kausar Bi. Saleema’s retraction of her earlier statement will impact the case because this raises questions over whether Sohrabuddin and his wife went to Hyderabad or boarded the bus to Sangli.
CBI’s Claim: Sohrabuddin Sheikh was not shot dead in an encounter while trying to escape on a motorbike.
The Retraction: Sohrabuddin and His Wife Were Never Abducted, Say Policemen
- Nathuba Pravinsinh Jadeja was a police constable and a driver in the Gujarat ATS. He is one of the key witnesses who was present throughout the incident – from the time Sohrabuddin, Kausar Bi and Tulsiram Prajapati were abducted, to Kausar Bi’s body being burnt. His statement was recorded under oath before the magistrate. During cross-examination in the CBI court, he retracted his statement recorded before the magistrate and denied that he was driving the SUV that stopped the bus in which Sohrabuddin and others were travelling in. He denied driving all three to Disha Farm. He also denied the entire episode – of abduction and killing – and IPS officer DG Vanzara burning the body of Kausar Bi, all of which he had previously testified to.
- Gurudayalsingh Choudhary was a driver with the Gujarat ATS. His statement was also recorded before a magistrate. He too turned hostile during cross-examination in the court.
Policemen Who Kept to Their Recorded Testimony
- Ravindra Makwana, the then-Police Station Officer of the Gujarat ATS, in his statement had said, “Balkrishan Chaubey, then a sub-inspector with the Gujarat ATS, had been assigned the task of guarding Kausar Bi after she was picked up, and had raped her.” Ravindra adhered to his previous statement while being cross-questioned before the CBI court.
- Naval Kishore, Head Constable in the Andhra Pradesh Police, too did not turn hostile during cross-examination. He statement was recorded before a magistrate.
Here are the names of some other hostile witnesses:
Madhubhai Bandiyawala, Malde Odedera, Sajjan Odedera,Chandresh Patel, Gurbansingh Sardar, Allahrakha Shaikh, Kalpesh Vaghela, Irfan Ghanchi, Jahir Abbas, Chandra Prakash Chopra and Pooranmal Meena.
So, What’s Next?
According to the prosecution, key witnesses turning hostile is a major setback for the case.
According to a legal expert:
It is up to the court to decide which statement it takes into consideration – the statement which were recorded before a magistrate under Section 164 of the CrPC or the statement in which they retracted when they were under oath.
What’s the Case?
Sohrabuddin and Kausar Bi had boarded a luxury bus from Hyderabad to go to Sangli in Maharashtra at around 9 pm on 22 November 2005. But while they were on the way, a group of policemen from Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh allegedly kidnapped them.
A passenger inside the bus told the investigator that an SUV blocked their bus and three policemen with guns abducted Sohrabuddin and his wife. Kausar Bi refused to allow the police to take him, and so she too was abducted by the police.
Based on the statements of some witnesses, Sohrabuddin and his wife were brought to Ahmedabad’s Disha Farm where both of them were illegally detained and later killed, according to the charge-sheet filed by the CBI.
Gujarat ATS’ Version
According to the Gujarat ATS, Sohrabuddin was a sharp shooter and had underworld connections. He had come to the city at the behest of the Lashker-e-Taiba and the ISI to assassinate a political leader. The Gujarat Police acted on the basis of an intelligence input from the Rajasthan Police, who were also part of the encounter team. The Gujarat Police also claimed that Sohrabuddin was wanted in an arms case in Madhya Pradesh and in a murder case in Rajasthan.
According to the Gujarat police, Sohrabuddin was operating from Narol area in Ahmedabad, when the police spotted him riding a bike near the Vishala circle, they tried to intercept but he didn't stop. In a desperate attempt to escape, Sohrabuddin shot at policemen and in self-defence police retaliated, killing him. They offer no explanation for how Kausar Bi was killed.
Key Witnesses of the Case
Some key witnesses who are yet to be cross-examined in court are:
Azam Khan, once a close associate of Sohrabuddin, turned hostile from his earlier statement recorded before the CBI. In an affidavit before the designated CBI court, witness claimed that the statements attributed to him against the former Deputy Police Commissioner of Ahmedabad, Abhay Chudasma, and others, were “taken by the investigating agency under duress.” He also charged the CBI with “acting on the instructions of Congress leaders of Gujarat.”
In 2006, VL Solanki, the IPS officer of Gujarat cadre, was made the supervisory officer of the Sohrabuddin case before it was handed over to the CBI. Solanki’s investigation revealed that apart from Sohrabuddin, Kausar Bi was also killed as a coverup. This revelation led to the arrests of Gujarat-cadre IPS officers DG Vanzara and Rajkumar Pandian, and Dinesh MN of the Rajasthan cadre. Later, the CBI, in its findings, charge-sheeted Geetha Johri for allegedly botching up the investigation. The agency accused her of projecting that the third person abducted along with Sohrabuddin and Kausar Bi was a person named Kalimuddin and not Tulsiram Prajapati.
The first investigating officer of the Gujarat Police gave a statement to the CBI against Geetha Johri, saying she was working under pressure from now Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah. She botched-up the case by giving a false report stating that third person on the bus was not Tulsiram Prajapati.