NEW DELHI – Former IPS officer and whistleblower Sanjiv Bhatt has moved the Gujarat high court against his conviction by a lower court in a 29-year-old custodial death case last month. He has been sentenced to life imprisonment.
During a brief hearing, a division bench of Justices Harsha Devani and V.B. Mayani admitted Bhatt’s appeal against his conviction and posted the matter for further hearing on August 20, when the court would also decide on his regular bail plea in another case.
Bhatt had filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court stating that Narendra Modi, then the chief minister of Gujarat, played a role in the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in the state. He was dismissed from service in 2015 and has been behind bars since September last year after his arrest in a case of falsely implicating a man for alleged possession of drugs.
Last month, a sessions court in Jamnagar sentenced Bhatt to life imprisonment in the custodial death case dating back to 1990 when he was posted as additional superintendent of police in Jamnagar district.
The court had convicted Bhatt and police constable Pravinsinh Zala under Indian Penal Code Section 302 (murder) and sentenced them to life in jail. The court had also convicted five other junior policemen in the case and sentenced them to two years in prison.
On October 30, 1990, Bhatt, then the additional SP of Jamnagar, had detained around 150 people following a communal riot in Jamjodhpur town after a ‘bandh’ called against the halting of veteran BJP leader L.K. Advani’s rathyatra undertaken for the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya. One of those arrested, Prabhudas Vaishnani, died in a hospital after his release from police custody.
Vaishnani’s brother later lodged an FIR against Bhatt and six other police officials, accusing them of torturing his sibling in detention, leading to his death. The case against Bhatt remained pending for years as the state government did not give its nod for prosecuting him at that time.
The government eventually gave permission for the prosecution of Bhatt and others in the case.
After Bhatt was convicted, a report said that between 2001 and 2016 (the last year for which numbers are available), as many as 180 custodial deaths took place in Gujarat. No other police personnel has been punished for any these deaths.
His wife Shweta Bhatt has claimed that the former IPS officer was being targeted for speaking out against Modi and his involvement in the 2002 Gujarat violence.
On September 5, 2018, Bhatt was arrested in connection with the 23-year-old case of falsely implicating a man for alleged possession of drugs. The case is at a trial stage.
(With PTI inputs)