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HomeNationFrom controversy to conviction – the downfall of IPS officer, Sanjiv Bhatt

From controversy to conviction – the downfall of IPS officer, Sanjiv Bhatt

Bhatt allegedly fabricated evidence by planting 1.5 kg of opium in the lawyer’s room, allegedly to coerce the lawyer out of a commercial property in Pali town, Rajasthan. The trial started in 2019.

The court sentenced Bhatt to 20 years in prison, with Additional Sessions Judge JN Thakkar stating in his 704-page order that this term is to be served consecutively with a life sentence in a 1990 custodial death case. This means that the 20-year sentence will start only after the completion of the life sentence he is currently serving.

This is the second case in which Sanjiv Bhatt has been convicted; the first was in June 2019 when a Jamnagar court sentenced him to life imprisonment in an alleged custodial death case in October 1990.

A day before the sentencing, on March 27, the Palanpur court had convicted him in the matter.

Bhatt received a 20-year jail sentence under section 21(C) of the NDPS Act for possessing a commercial quantity of contraband, and section 27(A) for financing illicit traffic and harbouring offenders.

He was fined 4.8 lakh and given varying jail terms across 11 sections of the NDPS Act and Indian Penal Code (IPC). Failure to pay the fine in each section will result in an additional year of imprisonment, as per the court order.

His wife Shweta Sanjiv Bhatt took to social media and alleged that the court had illegally and falsely convicted her husband in a 28-year-old fabricated case.

“Justice JN Thakkar today pronounced an unlawful conviction of 20 years of rigorous imprisonment not concurrent to the Life Imprisonment sentence along with a fine of 5 lakh rupees. This means the 5.5 years spent as an under-trial in this case while the prosecution maliciously dragged the fabricated case on and on will not be counted towards the 20 years of imprisonment or the unlawful life imprisonment sentence,” she wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

She had contested the 2012 Gujarat assembly elections from the Maninagar seat and lost to the then chief minister Narendra Modi.

“In fact, in a gross departure from legal principles, as per the judgement pronounced by JN Thakkar, the 20 years of imprisonment are to start and counted after the completion of the life imprisonment sentence. The regime wants to punish Sanjiv Bhatt to death and then punish him beyond death for a crime he did not commit,” she further said in her post.

Bhatt faced suspension in 2011 on charges of unauthorised absence from duty and misuse of official vehicles, eventually leading to his removal from service in August 2015.

The NDPS case

In a case dating back to 1996 when he was the Banaskantha district superintendent of police (SP), Bhatt is accused of exploiting his authority and position to falsely implicate Rajasthan lawyer Sumersinh Rajpurohit in a fabricated NDPS case, purportedly to acquire ownership of a shop in Pali town.

Bhatt allegedly orchestrated the planting of opium in room number 305 of the Lajwanti hotel in Palanpur and subsequently wrongfully detained the lawyer. It is further alleged that he manipulated case diaries and records, utilising his power, position, and subordinates within the police force.

Under Bhatt’s direction, the district police arrested lawyer Rajpurohit under the NDPS Act. Subsequently, the Rajasthan police refuted these claims, asserting that Rajpurohit was falsely implicated by the Banaskantha police to coerce him into transferring a disputed property in Pali, Rajasthan.

The Palanpur court took into account Bhatt’s criminal record, which included a conviction in a 1990 custodial death case in Jamnagar district, allegations of pressuring a subordinate to provide a false affidavit, and accusations of fabricating evidence to implicate individuals including Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the criminal conspiracy related to the 2002 riots.

Bhatt has been in jail since 2018 in connection with the drug case.

The court order also noted that Bhatt’s criminal record unveiled a pattern where, in his capacity as a senior police officer, he orchestrated the involvement of fellow officers to intimidate numerous innocent individuals.

There were instances, it said, where he personally subjected innocent citizens to physical abuse while they were in police custody.

In one particular case, a person lost their life, leading to Bhatt’s conviction for murder, it said adding that throughout legal proceedings, he resorted to various tactics to prolong the process and gained notoriety for making derogatory remarks about the judges presiding over his trial.

Life behind the bars

Born on December 21, 1963, in Mumbai, Bhatt pursued an MTech degree from IIT Bombay before joining the Indian Police Service (IPS) in 1988.

In a career marked by highs and lows, Bhatt’s short tenure as superintendent of Sabarmati Central Jail in 2003 stands out. He is said to have gained popularity among inmates for introducing variety in their meals including “gajar ka halwa”. But it was this perceived closeness to inmates, which led to his abrupt transfer just two months later. In November 2003, many prisoners went on a hunger strike to protest his transfer.

This episode foreshadowed the tumultuous events that culminated in 2019 when a Jamnagar sessions court sentenced Bhatt to life imprisonment under section 302 of the IPC, a verdict upheld by the Gujarat High Court in January of the following year.

In 1990, during his tenure as the additional superintendent of police in Jamnagar, Bhatt detained over 130 individuals under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) following a communal riot incited by a Bharat Bandh organised by the Bharatiya Janata Party and Vishwa Hindu Parishad. This unrest erupted as BJP veteran leader LK Advani led his rath yatra through Jamjodhpur town in November of that year.

Following their release, one detainee, Prabhudas Vaishnani, died, with his family accusing Bhatt of custodial torture. Allegations included reckless beatings, forced acts, and denial of water, resulting in kidney damage.

An FIR was filed against Bhatt and several other officers for custodial death, with a magistrate taking cognisance of the case in 1995. A total of seven police officers, including two sub-inspectors and three constables, were implicated in the case. Although the trial had been stayed by the Gujarat High Court until 2011, the stay was lifted in the same year.

Bhatt, along with co-accused Pravinsinh Zala, was convicted under sections 302 (murder), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the IPC.

Bhatt will be taken to Jamnagar jail after the latest verdict by the Palanpur court.

More legal trouble ahead?

In 2011, Bhatt submitted a sworn statement to the Supreme Court, recounting his participation in a meeting called at the then chief minister Modi’s residence on February 27, 2002, after a train coach was set ablaze near Godhra railway station by a mob, killing 59 Hindu pilgrims.

According to Bhatt’s allegation, Modi had asked the bureaucracy to go slow on the rioters. Additionally, Bhatt claimed that there were discussions about bringing the bodies of Hindu pilgrims who died in the Sabarmati Express in Godhra to Ahmedabad before cremation, a suggestion opposed by senior police officers fearing it would stoke religious violence.

Bhatt, serving as Deputy Commissioner of Police at the State Intelligence Bureau in 2002, also testified before the Nanavati Commission that he personally warned Modi about the imminent threat to Congress leader Ehsan Jafri, who was later killed by a mob.

The Nanavati Commission’s final report was submitted to the Gujarat government in October 2018 but is yet to be made public. The Supreme Court formed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the post-Godhra riots.

An FIR was lodged against Bhatt, social activist Teesta Setalvad and former DGP R B Sreekumar on June 25, 2022, a day after the Supreme Court dismissed a petition filed by Zakia Jafri, whose husband Ehsan Jafri was killed in the riots, alleging a larger conspiracy and challenging the clean chit given by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) to then CM Modi and others in the 2002 post-Godhra riots cases.

The apex court expressed the need to proceed against those “disgruntled officers” and others whose “coalesced effort was to create a sensation by making false revelations”.

The FIR was lodged based on a complaint filed by D B Barad, a police inspector who has been serving in the Crime Branch, Ahmedabad city since 2019. The complainant has cited the observations of the Supreme Court in the judgment delivered on June 24.

Barad’s FIR said Bhatt had used forged evidence to establish his presence in the meeting.

The Gujarat government decided to form a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to investigate the matter. This SIT, in its report, claimed that activist Setalvad along with Bhatt and Sreekumar had carried out a larger conspiracy after the 2002 Gujarat riots at the behest of veteran Congress leader late Ahmed Patel, the political advisor to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, to destabilise the elected state government that was under Modi’s leadership at that time.

The SIT said that the larger conspiracy to tarnish Gujarat’s image was hatched “at the behest of Late Shri Ahmed Patel, then Member of Parliament from Rajya Sabha and political advisor of the president of the Indian National Congress”.

The Gujarat SIT report alleged that Setalvad met Patel a few days after the Godhra train incident and received a total of 30 lakhs. In the first instance, she received 5 lakh from one of the witnesses at the instructions of Patel.

Two days later, at a meeting held at the government Circuit House at Shahibaug between Patel and Setalvad, the witness handed over 25 lakh more to the applicant at the behest of the senior Congress leader. The money was not for relief work and there were political leaders present at the two meetings, it said.

Based on Barad’s complaint, and the final report of the Supreme Court-appointed SIT, the Ahmedabad city crime branch on June 25 registered a case against Bhatt, Sreekumar and Setalvad under sections 194 (giving or fabricating false evidence), 211 (false charge of offence made with intent to injure), 218 (public servant framing incorrect record), 468 (forgery for the purpose of cheating), 471 (using as genuine a forged document or electronic record) read with 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code.

The Congress countered the SIT’s claims, alleging that the PM’s political vendetta extended to departed adversaries, implying that the SIT operated under political influence.

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