BK Prasad, head of the committee looking into the documents missing in the Ishrat Jahan encounter case, had apparently told at least one witness about the questions he would ask and the answers he would require.
This coaching of a witness may explain why the committee's report, filed on Wednesday, was inconclusive, says The Indian Express.
The BK Prasad panel had been announced in Parliament on 10 May by Union home minister Rajnath Singh to find documents missing from Ishrat Jahan's file after it was learned that the then UPA government had filed a second affidavit that dropped references to Ishrat's alleged links with the Lashkar-e-Toiba.
Ishrat Jahan was a Mumbai student believed to be an LeT operative out to assassinate the Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. She was killed in an encounter with the Gujarat police in June 2004.
The witness coaching came to light accidentally when an Indian Express reporter phoned BK Prasad on another issue on 25 April and, while recording the phone call for accuracy, was put on hold by Prasad who began another conversation. The reporter recorded this conversation as well.
While the reporter was on hold, Prasad spoke to an officer scheduled to give his statement in the investigation the next day. The officer was Ashok Kumar, joint secretary (Parliament, Hindi division and nodal officer for monitoring of court cases) in the department of commerce, who had earlier worked in the home ministry's internal security division that dealt with the Ishrat Jahan case.
Prasad told Kumar that he had to ask all the officers who may have dealt with the Ishrat papers this question: "Aapne ye paper dekha? (Have you seen that paper?)"
He then told Kumar: "Aapko kehna hai ki 'Maine ye paper nahi dekha.' Seedhi si baat hai (You have to say, 'I have not seen that paper.' It's as simple as that)."
Prasad added: "Aapko itna toh kehna hoga ki ya toh woh file hi maine kabhi zindagi mein deal nahi kiya, kabhi file ko dekhne ka kabhi mauka hi nahi mila (You will have to, at least, say that either you have never dealt with that file in your life, or have never had a chance to see it)... I don't think you have seen that file at any point... Bas, that is what I want from you: 'I have not seen that file at all'".
Prasad also told Kumar he would ask a second question: "And another question will be, 'Did anybody give you these documents to be kept separately with you?' Aap bologe, 'Nahi, mere ko kisi ne nahi diya.' (You will say, 'No, nobody gave them to me')."
While Kumar confirmed that Prasad had called him as part of the inquiry, he refused to give any details. Prasad himself said, via email: "You have stated that during my conversation with a senior officer on 25.4.2016 I have told him that I will ask him question on the missing Ishrat Jahan file papers and he should answer 'I have not seen that paper.' I would like to clarify that on 25.04.2016 I have sent a questionnaire to Mr Diptivilasa, the then Joint Secy and after 25.04.2016 I have enquired the following officers only: Mr Dharmendra Sharma, the then JS; Mr Rakesh Singh, the then JS; Mr Ashok Kumar, the then Director. None of the officers, whom I have enquired on 25.04.2016 or thereafter, have replied to any of the queries as quoted by you, i.e., 'I have not seen that paper'".
"Of course, in the course of enquiry, I have contacted many of these officers over phone or personally requesting them to appear for enquiry or fixing a mutually convenient date/time for enquiry, during which they might have asked about the nature of questions which might be asked. However, I must mention that the officers enquired by me are all senior officers and have worked in various capacities and are fully capable of answering the questions relating to this kind of probe on their own understanding. The conversation, if any, would have been in the context of clarifying the nature of enquiry. I must add that I have conducted a free and fair enquiry and all witnesses were given total freedom to express whatever they felt."