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Modi govt under scanner in Ishrat case: did probe officer fake report?

Akash Bisht | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:50 IST

The inquiry

  • A few important papers in the Ishrat Jahan fake enconter case had gone missing
  • Home Minister Rajnath Singh had told Parliament that the govt would probe why the UPA had flip-flopped on LeT links

The allegations

  • Inquiry officer BK Prasad submitted his report on Wednesday, indirectly indicting ex-Home Min P Chidambaram
  • An Indian Express report claims Prasad was heard tutoring a witness in the inquiry

More in the story

  • Chidambaram's defence on why the UPA first said no and then yes to a CBI probe
  • Sitaram Yechury's strong charges against the NDA govt

Serious doubts have been raised about the fairness of the investigation commissioned by the Narendra Modi government into the papers missing in the Ishrat Jahan case, which many believe was a fake encounter.

A report in The Indian Express claims that Home Ministry additional secretary BK Prasad was heard tutoring another bureaucrat on what he needs to say if asked about the missing files.

On 10 March, Home Minister Rajnath Singh had announced in the Lok Sabha that the government would probe why its predecessor, the UPA government, brought in a second affidavit dropping Ishrat's links with the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, and why it ordered a CBI probe into the encounter.

The 'fake' encounter

On 15 June 2004, the officers of the Ahmedabad City Crime Branch gunned down Ishrat, Javed Shaikh, Zeeshan Johar and Amjad Ali Rana in an encounter, and claimed that the dead were LeT terrorists planning to kill the then-Gujarat Chief Minister Modi.

Ishrat's mother moved the Gujarat High Court, seeking a CBI probe into the encounter, which she claimed was fake.

In August 2009, UPA govt had argued against a CBI probe. But within a month, it changed its stance

In August 2009, the UPA government filed its affidavit in the High Court, and argued against a CBI probe, citing Intelligence Bureau inputs that the four belonged to a sleeper cell of the LeT.

A three-member SIT probed the incident, and called it a fake encounter.

On 29 September 2009, the UPA government filed another affidavit, dropping references of Ishrat's links with the terrorist organisation, and gave its consent for a CBI probe.

Prasad's report

The present government gave Prasad the charge of heading the investigation, and he submitted his report on Wednesday, 15 June. The report claimed that the papers were "removed knowingly or unknowingly, or misplaced" in September 2009, during the tenure of P Chidambaram as Home Minister.

As per Prasad's report, the papers were removed or misplaced when Chidambaram was Home Minister

Prasad submitted his report to Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi, basing it on the statements of 11 serving and retired officials, including GK Pillai. The report claims that the papers went missing between 18-28 September 2009, and though it doesn't mention Chidambaram's name, it indirectly indicts him.

It further states that five documents were part of the Ishrat file before it was sent to Chidambaram and Pillai, and when the file was returned, these papers were missing. The Home Ministry has been able to recover one of the five documents so far.

Influencing witnesses

In these circumstances, the newspaper report highlights how witnesses were being influenced by Prasad for a report indicting Chidambaram.

According to the national daily, Prasad was heard tutoring Ashok Kumar, Joint Secretary in the Department of Commerce, about what he needs to say when asked about the missing papers.

In September 2009, Kumar was posted as Director in the Home Ministry's Internal Security division, which was handling the Ishrat Jahan case. Kumar was one of the officers whose statements were recorded by Prasad.

During their conversation, Prasad was heard telling Kumar that he was asking every officer involved about whether he had seen the paper, and that, when asked, the latter should say that he hadn't. Prasad also warned Kumar that any other reply could raise doubts about his role in the missing papers.

Claim of vindication

Soon after the Indian Express report appeared, Chidambaram issued a statement: "The news report published in The Indian Express today (16 June 2016) comprehensively exposes the fake controversy created by the NDA government on the two affidavits filed by the Central government in the Ishrat Jahan case.

"The Indian Express report completely vindicates the position that I had taken on the two affidavits. The first affidavit (6 August 2009) disclosed the "intelligence inputs" that had been shared by the Central government with the state government. Judge Tamang in his report (7 September 2009) found that Ishrat Jahan and three others had been killed in a fake encounter.

"The report caused an uproar in Gujarat and elsewhere. The first affidavit was misinterpreted and misused to defend the encounter. It was, therefore, necessary to clarify the first affidavit. Hence, a 'further affidavit' was filed (29 September 2009) clarifying that intelligence inputs do not constitute conclusive proof and it is for the state government and the state police to act on such inputs.

I take responsibility for filing 'further affidavit', which was the right thing to do: P Chidambaram

"The contents of the 'further affidavit' (especially paras 2 and 5) are absolutely clear and correct. It is unfortunate that most people who commented on the matter had not cared to read the 'further affidavit'.

"The five 'missing' documents completely vindicate the position I had taken. The sequence of events conclusively establish that we had acted in a totally transparent manner. The draft of the 'further affidavit' was vetted by the Attorney General, the highest law officer of the country, before it was filed. The file passed through the hands of the Home Secretary at least three or four times. Ultimately, the 'further affidavit' was filed in Court on the orders of the Home Secretary.

"Of course, I take full responsibility for filing the 'further affidavit' which was absolutely the correct thing to do.

"The moral of the story is that even a doctored report (of the Inquiry Officer) cannot hide the truth. The real issue is whether Ishrat Jahan and three others were killed in a genuine encounter or a fake encounter. Only the trial of the case, pending since July 2013, will bring out the truth."

Who is the govt protecting?

CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechury lambasted the government, and raised questions on how the BJP government at Centre is trying to protect some of the big names connected with the case.

He said: "Tutored witnesses, compromised inquiries, and non-existent 'clean chits' are the hallmark of this BJP government. Serious questions are being raised about the delivery of justice under the present regime. The Malegaon probe by the NIA, which overturned previous investigations done by itself, is yet another pointer in this direction."

Yechury went on to add that it is hard to expect justice in such an environment, when the Home Minister's personal assurances to the Parliament lead to such a situation.

"The wires in this case lead straight to the top, and the top leadership of the government must answer whom they are protecting in this false encounter case," he said.

First published: 16 June 2016, 4:09 IST