Ahmedabad/New Delhi: After the wife of former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt, sentenced to life imprisonment in a 1990 custodial death case, on Sunday alleged her husband was a victim of political vindictiveness and there was a threat to her life, official sources termed her charges “blatant falsehood”. Sources said the case Shweta Bhatt was referring to was filed at the insistence of the then chief minister of Gujarat, Chimanbhai Patel.
Addressing a press conference in the capital, Shweta Bhatt had said her family had had a hard time since Sanjiv Bhatt was convicted in the case and it has “torn them apart”.
The official sources said, on the contrary, Shweta Bhatt was spreading “blatant falsehoods and trying to create a false impression about the absence of fair trial in the case”.
The case is related to the custodial deaths of Prabhudas Vaishnani, who was among 133 people caught by Jamnagar police after a communal riot broke out following a bandh call in view of BJP leader LK Advani’s Rath Yatra.
The wife of Sanjiv Bhatt said her husband had “neither arrested nor detained anyone as he was not empowered to do so. Secondly, Prabhudas died 18 days after he was detained. He never complained of torture before the magistrate or anybody else.”
“It was not the family of Prabhudas but a member of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Amrutlal Madjavji Vaishnani, who filed a complaint of custodial torture,” Shweta claimed. But “Sanjiv Bhatt and his team of police officers dragged the people out of their homes and beat them up mercilessly before arresting them,” one of the sources said.
[pullquote]Based on his application, the sessions judge had allowed Sanjiv Bhatt to examine 48 witnesses but he refused later[/pullquote]
Shweta Bhatt said according to Section 161 of the Bombay Police Act, a government officer can be prosecuted within 1-2 years of the commission of any offence and not after 23 years. “Secondly, a sanction is needed from the government under Section 197 of CrPC to prosecute any officer. The government has not granted sanction to prosecute Bhatt; still, he was put on trial,” she alleged.
Only 32 out of the 300 witnesses in the case were examined. The defence was not allowed to question them, she alleged.
The government sources said, based on his application, the sessions judge had allowed Sanjiv Bhatt to examine 48 witnesses but he refused later. “Many witnesses died over 30 years and some become so old that they were not in a position to depose,” the source said.
Shweta Bhatt, however, claimed her husband was detained in the Palanpur case which is 23 years old and “in his absence, the proceedings in the first case (of custodial death) were expedited”. The government sources said the former IPS officer had given his consent for day-to-day trial before the high court in April.
In the Palanpur case, Sanjiv Bhatt was accused of planting drugs to implicate a Rajasthan based-lawyer. The former IPS officer was in jail in connection with the Palanpur case at the time of his sentencing in the 1990 case. His wife alleged that after he deposed before the Nanavati Commission, constituted to probe the 2002 Godhra riots, Sanjiv Bhatt was suspended and later dismissed but was not allowed to resign. “The aim was to block his perks and pension,” she claimed.
“The State government demolished a part of my ancestral house, where I live, alleging illegal construction… and withdrew the security provided to us by the Supreme Court,” she alleged. Shweta Bhatt also alleged that there was a threat to her life and that she had a close shave in a road accident involving a vehicle that did not have a number plate or documents. “Wherever I go, I am being followed by people. They are around my house every time,” she alleged. “But I’m not going to back down. I will keep fighting for justice. It’s my only motive in life now,” she said.
Their son, Shantanu Bhatt, said his father was an upright officer who always followed the law and fought for those who couldn’t defend themselves. The family will move the Gujarat High Court against the verdict on Tuesday.