Former Gujarat Minister Amit Shah was Thursday permitted to enter the state by the Supreme Court which rejected a CBI plea to cancel his bail in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case but agreed to shift the trial to Mumbai “to preserve the integrity of the trial”.
The apex court, which said it was “not inclined” to cancel the bail granted to Shah two years ago, imposed strict conditions and made it clear that the relief granted in the Sohrabuddin case will not be extended to him in the Tulsiram Prajapati killing case.
Besides the Sohrabuddin case, Shah, the then Minister of State for Home in Gujarat and a close aide of Chief Minister Narendra Modi, has also been named as accused with some retired and serving senior police officers in the charge sheet filed on September 4 in another fake encounter killing of gangster Prajapati.
“It is further made clear that the grant of bail to Amitbhai Shah in the Sohrabuddin case shall have no effect in the Prajapati case and in that case whether Amitbhai Shah is to be kept in judicial custody or granted bail would be decided by the court on the basis of the materials on record of that case and without taking into consideration the grant of bail to him in the Sohrabuddin case,” a bench comprising justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana Prakash Desai said.
The bench said CBI has made a “strong case” for transfer of the Sohrabuddin case outside Gujarat to Mumbai “to preserve the integrity of the trial”.
It also gave liberty to the agency to make a plea before the Mumbai court for shifting of the Prajapati killing case there as “both the cases are closely connected” which will help in avoiding any miscarriage of justice.
Prajapati was a witness when Sohrabuddin and his wife were picked up by the Gujarat police before they were killed in November, 2005.
“On a careful consideration of all the material facts and circumstances as also having regard to the past experience in the Sohrabuddin matter we are convinced that in order to preserve the integrity of the trial it is necessary to shift it outside the state,” the bench said, while referring to several incidents which made it “unhappy” the way the courts below dealt with the matter.
The bench said, “There are other instances as would appear from the proceedings in the Sohrabuddin case when this Court had reasons not to feel entirely happy at the way the courts below dealt with the matter.”
“It is the case of the CBI that the case of Sohrabuddin and the case of Tulsiram Prajapati are closely connected and in order to avoid any miscarriage of justice, both the cases can only be tried before the same court.
“It will, therefore, be open to the CBI to make an application for transfer of the Tulsiram Prajapati case also to the same court where the Sohrabuddin case is transferred. In case, such an application is filed, the court will pass appropriate orders, in accordance with law, after hearing all concerned,” the bench said.
However, the bench clarified that the decision to transfer the case is “not a reflection on the State judiciary and it is made clear that this Court reposes full trust in the judiciary of the State.”
“As a matter of fact, the decision to transfer the case outside the State is intended to save the trial court in the State from undue stress and to avoid any possible misgivings in the minds of the ordinary people about the case getting a fair trial in the State,” the bench said.
While imposing strict conditions on Shah, the bench said “the apprehension expressed by the CBI that Shah may misuse the freedom and try to subvert the prosecution cannot be lightly brushed aside.”
It directed the former minister to give an undertaking in writing to the trial court that he would not commit any breach of the conditions of the bail bond and would not try to influence any witnesses or tamper with the prosecution evidence in any manner and report to the CBI office every alternate Saturday at 11.00 AM.
The bench warned that in case Shah commits any breach of the conditions of the bail bond or the undertaking given to the court, it will be open to the CBI to move the trial court for cancellation of his bail.
The bench said, “In that case, if the allegations pertain to the period posterior to this order, the trial court shall examine the matter carefully and take an independent decision without being influenced by this order declining to cancel the bail granted to him.”
While transferring the case to Mumbai, the bench referred to the delayed proceedings meted out to N K Amin, the suspended police officer, who offered to turn approver in the case.
It noted that delay in dealing with his plea “gave sufficient time to the other accused to win Amin over to their side by giving him intimidations and/or inducements”.
The court said the grant of bail to Shah in Sohrabuddin case shall be no consideration for grant of bail to the other accused in that case and the prayer for bail by the other accused shall be considered on its own merits.
CBI had approached the apex court against the bail granted to Shah on October 29, 2010 by the Gujarat High Court in the case of fake encounter killing of gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh and for shifting the trial of the case to a place outside Gujarat.
Sheikh and his wife Kauser Bi were allegedly abducted by Gujarat’s Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) when they were travelling from Hyderabad and killed in a fake encounter near Gandhinagar in November 2005.
Shah was arrested by CBI on July 25, 2010 and had spent over three months in Sabarmati Jail in Ahmedabad.
Shah had to quit the Modi government in July last year after having been slapped with charges of kidnapping and murder in connection with the case. CBI has alleged that he was the “lynchpin” of the conspiracy in the case.
The agency had earlier urged the apex court to transfer the trial outside Gujarat arguing that witnesses were being intimidated and the trial could not be held in a free and fair manner.