“To prove a man guilty under IPC 302 is a huge responsibility. You are not only playing with someone’s life but also with the lives of that person’s family too. All I can say is justice was not served,” laments Shweta Bhatt, wife of ex-IPS officer (Gujarat Cadre) Sanjiv Bhatt, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in a 30-year-old custodial torture-death case by a local court in Jamnagar, Gujarat.
Bhatt has been courting controversy for nearly two decades now, not least when he testified to the Nanavati Commission in 2011 against the Gujarat government, particularly the then-chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi. Since then, he has been arrested twice, and suspended from the department on charges of unauthorised leave, which led to his dismissal in 2015.
On 5 September 2018, Bhatt was arrested for allegedly framing a lawyer for possession of drugs, when he was posted in Banaskantha district in April 1996 as the Superintendent of Police and was lodged in Palanpur Sub-Jail. Shweta Bhatt spoke to The Quint at length about how she believes the legal system has been used to denied her husband justice.
The Custodial Torture-Death Case
Shweta Bhatt told The Quint that for nearly nine months, she has been running from pillar to post to secure her husband’s bail in the drugs-planting case, which made his defence in the custodial torture-death case difficult.
According to Shweta, the custodial torture-death case was revived in 2011 after the Gujarat government suddenly granted sanction for his prosecution after having earlier refused to grant it. The state government had filed applications in the Gujarat courts to prevent any prosecution back in 1995, but withdrew these in 2011, allowing the trial to proceed.
The local court verdict that found him guilty said that on 30 October 1990, Bhatt, then an additional superintendent of police, had detained around 133 people following a communal riot in Jam-Jodhpur town of Jamnagar. The riot broke out after a bandh call against the halting of BJP leader LK Advani’s rath-yatra agitation for a Ram temple in Ayodhya. One of those detained, Prabhudas Vaishnani, died in a hospital two weeks after his release. His brother Amrutbhai lodged a complaint alleging that Bhatt and other police officials tortured Vaishnani in custody, causing his death.
Shweta told The Quint that there was little factual basis to prosecute Sanjiv for Vaishnani’s death following his arrest after riots in Jam-Jodhpur, Gujarat in October 1990. Bhatt was accused of torturing Vaishnani while he was in custody, which caused his death after he was released.
She told The Quint that on the fateful day when rioting broke out in Jam-Jodhpur town of Jamnagar in October 1990, Sanjiv did not arrest the 133 rioters.
“This was Sanjiv’s first posting. He was just 10-12 days new in the department and the posting didn’t fall in his jurisdiction. The DSP of the zone where he was first posted ordered him to go to Jam-Jodhpur as some riots had happened there. So he goes to Jam Jodhpur in civilian clothes and no one ever saw him there, neither did he pay attention to anyone, nor does he know anyone there. He reached the town at 1:30 PM; by then the local police had already arrested 133 people who were sent to jail. He never arrested any of them.”Shweta Bhatt, Wife of Sanjiv Bhatt
According to Shweta, Vaishnani – who died 10 days after his release – didn’t have any internal or external bruises. She says there are written affidavits filed by witnesses in 1990 which can corroborate this claim. She also claims that the police failed to bring forward witnesses to prove the victim was actually tortured, or that he in fact died of renal failure as claimed by Vaishnani’s brother.
She also said that the prosecution failed to produce any witness to support the brother’s claims:
“There was a doctor named HL Trivedi who is a renowned nephrologist and he had opined that the kidney failure, the Rhabdomylosis, was not the reason for Prabhudas Vaishnani’s death. Vaishnani’s brother had made claims that he was made to crawl, do squats, but there is not even a single witness to any of the claims made.”Shweta Bhatt, Wife of Sanjiv Bhatt
'Prosecution Didn’t Hand Over Documents They Were Legally Obligated to Provide’
Shweta also claims that the prosecution didn’t provide them with crucial documents needed to mount a proper defence, which they are obliged to do as per the law. The police allegedly claimed that most of these were 'destroyed'.
“Our lawyer asked for a list of documents pertaining to the people who were arrested in Jamnagar –who arrested them, statements from IOs and their case diaries, their locations, reports by the jail doctors, reports from the superintendent of the jail, policemen who were stationed in the jail who witnessed the incident their reports – we had given a huge list of such documents. However, we only received very few documents from this list, and as for the other documents, they said they got destroyed.”Shweta Bhatt, Wife of Sanjiv Bhatt
Shweta claims that the production report, Investigation Report by CID Crime, reports by jail doctors and the jail superintendent are some of the many documents the prosecution failed to provide.
This included, she says, Prabhudas Vaishnani’s inmate report when he was released from jail, which Sanjiv's lawyer had specifically asked for because of how important it was to a case like this, in which the victim was alleged to have died because of custodial torture.
“The inmate’s report would have mentioned if Vaishnani faced any problems, torture, injuries etc, whether he had any marks on his body before he entered the jail and after he exited the jail. We asked for this report and we were told that it too got destroyed. All documents that go in our favour are missing,” she added.
The Witnesses Who Were Not Examined
Shweta alleges that although the prosecution claimed they had 300 witnesses in the Jamnagar custodial death case, the prosecutor only called around 30.
“We wanted to cross-examine all 300 witnesses, but they simply called around 30 or so. Even the accused has a right to a fair trial. But the court denied our request to call defence witnesses. During this, they get an order from the Supreme Court claiming that the trial has to be concluded by 20 June.”
Shweta has also alleged that the court did not allow their lawyer to call a medico-legal expert to testify in the case.
“We sent all the documents pertaining to the case to Dr Narayan Reddy who is an MDin forensic medicine and an LLB, making him an authority in the matter. He had also opined in our favour. We requested the court to call Dr Reddy as a witness in the case. But that too was denied. At 12:30 pm, we requested the court to call him as a witness, but the court said you call him by 3:00 pm or this request will be denied. Dr Reddy stays in Hyderabad and the judge also knows that he can’t reach here in two hours, and ultimately denied us.”Shweta Bhatt, Wife of Sanjiv Bhatt
On Sanjiv's behalf, Shweta approached the Gujarat High Court and the Supreme Court, asking them to direct the examination of at least some of the 300 witnesses who were not examined in the sessions court.
“The HC said that they cannot call all the witnesses but they did permit us to call 3 IOs (Investigating Officer). The court also allowed us to open their case diaries. But their examination was conducted poorly by the prosecution. To all the questions raised, the three IOs simply replied that they don’t know or don’t remember. What was reported earlier and what was written in the case diary was not examined thoroughly.”Shweta Bhatt, Wife of Sanjiv Bhatt
Although Shweta has received several calls from Sanjiv Bhatt’s peers, she feels that the IPS association should step up and support him publicly.
“It is sad, not just for me, not just for Sanjiv Bhatt and his family but for each and every officer and his family. Anything can happen with anyone. If all the IPS officers don’t unite now then when will they. He is one of them.”
Shweta will now appeal in the Gujarat High Court.