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The Gujarat High Court Thursday handed over the investigation into the 2004 Ishrat Jahan killing in a suspected staged-shootout by Gujarat Police to the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT).

The SIT, headed by former Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director R.K. Raghavan, is probing key cases related to the 2002 post-Godhra communal riots in the state.

Mumbai college girl Ishrat Jahan, Javed Sheikh alias Pranesh Pillai and two others were killed June 15, 2004 in a staged shootout near Ahmedabad by a crime branch team headed by Deputy Inspector General of Police D.G. Vanzara who is now in jail in connection with the Sohrabuddin Sheikh staged shootout case.

On Thursday, a division bench of Justice Jayant Patel and Justice Abhilasha Kumari turned down the plea of Shamima Kauser, mother of Ishrat, and Gopinath Pillai, father of Javed Sheikh, to hand over investigation of the case to the CBI.

In August 2009, an Ahmedabad metropolitan court held the killings of Ishrat, Javed and two others as staged shootout. The police case was that the four were part of a terror module aiming to kill Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

The high court handed over the investigation to the SIT with a condition that any officer on the team who may have been involved in this case will be kept away from the investigations.

The order will become operational within two weeks and the SIT has been given three months to submit its report.

The division bench which began hearing on a clutch of petitions under directions of the Supreme Court June 24 also rejected the plea of the state government challenging the report of Metropolitan Magistrate S.P. Tamang, who held the incident as a staged shootout.

Taking the state government to task it noted that as an enforcer of law, the state government should not have challenged the report of a judicial officer.

Tamang’s report indicted 21 policemen, including the then police commissioner K.R. Kaushik, who has since retired.

The high court also rejected the plea of Indian Police Service officer G.L. Singhal objecting to the legality of the Tamang report stating that as a police officer he had no right to file such a plea.

Justice K.S. Jhaveri, who had formed the SIT, immediately ordered a stay on implementation of the report.

The issue reached the Supreme Court, which dropped strictures from the high court order and asked a division bench to hear the case.

The SIT which has been tasked by the high court with hearing of the Ishrat case was set up under orders of the Supreme Court dated March 26, 2008 to enquire into 14 key cases related to the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat.

The riots broke out after a bogie of the Sabarmati Express on its way to Ahmedabad was torched near the Godhra railway station leading to the death of 59 people.

The order on setting up the SIT came on a bunch of petitions seeking transfer of cases outside Gujarat and re-investigation by the CBI after several witnesses turned hostile amidst allegations of coercion, threat and inducements in case after case related to the communal riots.

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