Gujarat top cop PP Pandey 'offers' to step down. SC allows state to accept
PP Pandey stepped down as director general of Gujarat Police Monday. This was 'allowed' apparently to avoid an adverse decision from the Supreme Court regarding his appointment.
The appointment of Pandey, who was on an extension until 30 April, was opposed by JF Ribeiro. A former Gujarat DG, Ribeiro, filed a petition in the state high court that was rejected. The matter then moved to the Supreme Court.
According to Ribeiro, an officer out on bail (in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case) could not be appointed to the highest police post in the state.
The Supreme Court on Monday reportedly allowed Gujarat government to accept Pandey's offer to relinquish his post forthwith. A Bench headed by Chief Justice JS Khehar was not in agreement with Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Tushar Mehta that the state government be given time until next Friday to file the counter affidavit to the petition challenging the extension granted to Pandey till April end.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal had submitted that a criminal case is pending against Pandey who has been charged with alleged murder and cannot stay at the top post for a single day. Instead, he was given extension after superannuation.
The apex court had on 3 February sought Gujarat government's response on the issue.
Sibal had said that Pandey was granted bail, reinstated, promoted and rewarded despite being an accused in a murder case. The appointments committee of the central government cabinet had granted the three-month extension to Pandey, who was to retire on 31 January.
Pandey was heading the Ahmedabad crime branch when Ishrat along with Javed Shaikh alias Pranesh Pillai, Amjadali Akbarali Rana and Zeeshan Johar were killed in a police encounter on the outskirts of Ahmedabad on 15 June 2004.
While Gujarat police had claimed they had terror links and were plotting to assassinate the then chief minister Narendra Modi, a SIT constituted by the high court to investigate the case had concluded that it was a fake encounter, following which the case was transferred to the CBI. Pandey was charge-sheeted by the CBI for conspiracy, illegal confinement and murder along with other accused in the Ishrat Jahan murder case.
Pandey was reportedly arrested in the Ishrat Jahan case on 13 August 2013. He was granted bail after nearly two years on5 February 2015.
His appearance in the Mirzapur court in Ahmedabad in 2013 was a dramatic event. He came on a stretcher after having got himself admitted to a hospital following chest pain. He had gone underground after being summoned by the CBI in the case and it was only after the Supreme Court asked him to appear before the CBI Court in Ahmedabad, that he had turned up. He had earlier been declared an absconder in the matter.
After his release on bail, Pandey was taken back into service in February 2015 and was first appointed as director of the state Anti-Corruption Bureau. On 16 April last year, he was made the in-charge DGP of Gujarat.
Sources said that the Gujarat government had placed an affidavit before the Supreme Court that had an attached letter from Pandey conveying his willingness to relinquish the post.
Breach of public trust
In his petition against Pandey in Gujarat High Court, Ribeiro had said that such an additional charge (to Pandey) is against the doctrine of public trust, against the law and the guidelines of the Supreme Court.
He had contested that the police force of a state can’t be headed by a person accused of an extremely serious offence – of the murder of four persons – especially when the trials are yet to begin. In a sense, that such an appointment was itself a breach of law, being arbitrary and in violation of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.
The high court had rejected the petition saying that the additional charge given to Pandey as the police chief was merely 'a stop-gap arrangement'.
“Pandey's offer to step down was obviously to avoid a slap from the Supreme Court to the Gujarat government, that too in the poll year. It is the outcome of Supreme Court taking a strong view on the matter,” said Shamshad Pathan, a lawyer affiliated with Jan Sangharsh Manch that has been fighting against the series of 'fake' encounters in the state since the 2002 post-Godhra riots.
Shamshad has been keeping a watch on the developments in the Ishrat Jahan case. He said, “How could the government defend Pandey's posting to the top police designation when he was declared an absconder in a case of a fake encounter? There were questions even on his appointment. This is not a question of anyone's victory. It is a matter of morality where the man in question is facing a murder charge.”
“This was the safe way to prevent the state government from getting embarrassed by the Supreme Court. Hence the letter was drafted and attached to the affidavit,” said a senior legal reporter in Ahmedabad.
List of issues
Ironically, Pandey's name had also featured in a Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) order last year that had quashed the departmental charge sheet issued in August 2011 against former IPS officer Rahul Sharma in connection with missing CDs containing details of mobile phone calls of several BJP and other Sangh Parivar-affiliated group leaders along with police officials during the 2002 riots in Ahmedabad.
The CAT, besides accepting Sharma's arguments had observed that the suppression of the mobile phone CDs was to benefit the actual perpetrators of the brutal and violent crimes committed during the riots.
It said the charge sheet was 'designed as an engine of oppression' because sparing other cops like PP Pandey, AK Surolia, KR Kaushik and SS Chudasama from scrutiny was 'unequal treatment and naked discrimination' against Sharma.
In that case the CAT had termed the government's action of suppressing information regarding the CDs as breach of 'its sanctified responsibility under Raj Dharma' and had asked why no investigator, in 50 riots cases in 13 long years, had ever tried to investigate the disappearance of the CDs, or why it was never discussed by other top cops associated with the riots probe.
“Had the CDs been put to good use, the actual offenders would have been apprehended and the issue of conspiracy, as alleged, could have been set at nought. Why this great opportunity is given a go-bye, was not explained by the state,” the order read.
Sharma had been charge sheeted in 2011 for allegedly misplacing the CDs and taking them with him without ever returning them to investigators.
The issue had come to light when Sharma supplied a copy of the CDs to Nanavati-Shah Commission probing the Godhra train burning incident and subsequent riots in 2004. His counsel IH Syed had argued that Section 6 of the Commission of Inquiry Act gives him immunity as a witness from the departmental action and criminal prosecution.
Reports from Ahmedabad say that the process of choosing Pandey's successor has started. He might be succeeded by Geeta Johri, who was also initially charged in the Sohrabbudin Sheikh encounter case but the charges were later dropped on technical grounds. Senior police officer Pramod Kumar is also in the race.
The new DGP will have the all-important task of ensuring law and order during the upcoming polls in the state that scheduled to be held later this year.
Social activist Teesta Setalvad, who has been forking for justice to the victims of 2002 Gujarat riots and has also been fighting against the 'fake' encounters in the state, said, "The fact that the Gujarat government, and in turn PP Pandey, felt compelled to bow before the impetus in the challenge to his appointment which was both moral and legal, the fact that a senior officer appointed to the highest post in the Gujarat police was compelled by Riberio's challenge to resign means that there was apprehension of further deliberations, even comments on the charges he faces."