Special CBI court cites lack of evidence; number of accused discharged in case now stands at 15, including BJP national president Amit Shah

DG Vanzara, the controversial ex-DIG of Gujarat who is an accused in at least three instances of fake encounters that took place in the state when Narendra Modi was chief minister – was, on Tuesday, discharged by a special CBI court in Mumbai in the much publicised Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case. Another IPS officer, MN Dinesh from the Rajasthan cadre, was also discharged by the court, which cited lack of evidence against the two as the reason for granting them relief.

The court is hearing the case after the Supreme Court ordered for the trial to be transferred out of Gujarat. The discharge plea of some of the accused is still pending, after which the trial will begin in the case that dates back to 2005. A total of 38 persons, including BJP national president – who, at the time of the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter, was the junior minister for home in the then Narendra Modi-led Gujarat government – were named as accused in the case.

However, with the discharge of Vanzara and Dinesh, the total number of accused who have been granted relief in the case has now reached 15. Amit Shah too had been discharged on grounds of lack of evidence for his alleged role in ordering the killing of Sheikh as were police officer Abhay Chudasama, Rajasthan Home Minister Gulabchand Kataria, former Gujarat police chief PC Pande and senior police officer Geeta Johri.

In November 2005, Sheikh, along with his wife Kausar Bi and associate Tulsiram Prajapati, was travelling in a Sangli-bound bus from Hyderabad. A police team chased the bus, forced the three to alight and took them to Ahmedabad, where they were eventually killed. Prajapati, who was an eyewitness in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh case, was killed a year later in another alleged case of fake encounter.

The CID had alleged that it was made to appear that Sheikh was escaping, while he was shot at by cops. Investigators said the killings were meant to silence the men, who were instrumental in an extortion racket the police of three states (Gujarat, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh) were running at the behest of their political bosses. Vanzara, now retired, was the then Gujarat ATS chief.

On Monday, the CBI court had rejected the discharge application of two other Rajasthan police officers – Himanshu Singh and Shyam Singh Charan. The CBI had opposed the discharge plea of Singh and Charan, both sub-inspector rank officials, on the ground that they were among the main accused and were the men who actually fired the shots at Sheikh.

However, Tuesday’s order comes only as a partial relief for Vanzara as he still stands accused in the fake encounter killings of Ishrat Jahan and Tulsiram Prajapati. The controversial former top cop was released on bail in February, 2015 after spending almost seven and half years in prison. He had been arrested on April 24, 2007 by CID crime in connection with the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case.

Following the court’s verdict on Tuesday, Vanzara told news agency ANI: “Both of us (him and Dinesh) have been declared innocent. The Indian judiciary might be slow, but it does provide justice.”