New Delhi, (IANS) In yet another setback to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the Supreme Court Wednesday directed a panel headed by former apex court judge M.B. Shah to probe 15 cases of alleged staged shootout killings in the state 2003-06.
An apex court bench of Justice Aftab Alam and Justice C.K. Prasad said that it was open to the monitoring authority headed by Justice (retd) Shah to constitute its own investigating team of police officers either from the existing special task force (STF) or other officers from within and outside the state.
The court said the monitoring authority would steer clear of the cases that were already under investigation on the direction of the apex court or the Gujarat High Court. This included the staged shootout cases of alleged gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh and alleged terrorist Ishrat Jahan and three others.
The apex court is already hearing a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) plea seeking investigation into alleged staged shootout killing of Tulsiram Prajapati, an aide of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, saying his case was part of a chain.
The court said that the monitoring authority had “ample powers to guide and instruct the STF on the mode, manner and direction in regards to the investigation in the encounter killings”.
The court requested Justice (retd) Shah that all cases of alleged stage shootouts be thoroughly investigated so that “truth in each case is revealed”.
The Gujarat government Aug 2, 2011, constituted the STF to investigate these killings and by another order set up a monitoring authority headed by Justice (retd) Shah to monitor the investigation by the STF.
The order said that the monitoring authority could “call for earlier case records in respect of encounter deaths and the records of the NHRC (National Human Rights Commission)”.
The court said that it was desirable that in the first instance the monitoring authority may be asked to have these cases investigated so that the “truth in each case is revealed”.
The court said that the two writ petitions by lyricist Javed Akhtar and social activist Shabnam Hashmi and journalist B.G. Varghese be placed before Justice (retd) Shah.
Justice (retd) Shah, if so desired, may afford an opportunity to the victims, their kith and kin to appear before the authority to submit their cases, the court said.
As the court was passing its order, counsel Prashant Bhushan, sought a probe into the alleged cover-up attempts by police after the alleged staged shootouts.
Going through the terms of reference of the order which set up the STF and the monitoring authority, the court observed that “on paper it looks good”. “If you put it into practice, it will go a long way in upholding the rule of law,” the judges said.
As Bhushan sought additional direction to the monitoring authority to consider any request for compensation, Additional Advocate General of Gujarat Tushar Mehta said that it was already there in the terms of scope of the authority.
The court said that the monitoring authority would submit its first report on the progress of the investigation into the staged shootout cases within three months.
Akhtar and Hashmi had sought a probe by a special investigation team into the alleged staged shootout killing of Sameer Khan in October 2002. Varghese sought investigation into the alleged staged shootout killing of 21 people, as admitted by the state government in assembly. (IANS)