Gujarat HC suspends life sentence of two former, one serving IAF personnel in custodial death case

The Gujarat High Court on Friday suspended the life sentence of two retired and one serving Indian Air Force personnel who were convicted by a special court last year in a 28-year-old custodial death case.

A division bench comprising Justice SH Vora and Justice SV Pinto suspended the life sentence of retired Squadron Leader Anoop Sood, retired Sergeant Anil K N and serving Sergeant Mahender Singh Sheravat till the pendency of their appeal.

Since the accused are behind bars after they were convicted last year, the bench also granted them bail on a condition that they will not leave the country and will remain present during the hearing of their appeal against the conviction.

A special CBI court in May last year had convicted the trio and sentenced them to life imprisonment in a custodial death case, which took place at Jamnagar Air Force Station in Gujarat in 1995.

The trio was found guilty of killing Girja Rawat, who worked as a cook at Air Force-I, Jamnagar. Of the seven accused in the case, these three were convicted, one died during the course of the trial, while three others were acquitted by the CBI court.

The high court granted relief saying, “The applicants stand a fair chance of acquittal and the conviction recorded under sections 302, 348, 177 read with section 120-B of IPC is apparently erroneous and the conviction may not be sustainable and therefore, we deem it fit to allow the present applications.”

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The accused had approached the high court for suspension of the sentence till the pendency of their appeal on the ground that the findings of the CBI court were “absolutely erroneous and illegal and there is no direct, indirect or circumstantial evidence brought by the prosecution agency to convict them”.

As per the case details, Rawat was a cook in the DSC Mess of Air Force-I, Jamnagar. On November 13, 1995, around 10 to 12 Air Force police officials, including Sood, conducted searches at his residence and forcibly took him with them, as they suspected him of stealing liquor from the Air Force canteen.

It was alleged that the accused tortured Rawat to make him confess about the theft. In the evening, his wife visited the Guard Room and requested the officials to release her husband and was told that he would be released soon.

The accused allegedly tortured him, which led to his death the next day, the release stated.

In 2012, the Gujarat High Court handed over the investigation to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), as pleaded by Rawat’s wife. After a thorough investigation, the CBI had filed a chargesheet in July 2013 against the accused.

The high court bench in its order on Friday noted that there was no evidence to show the presence of the applicants at the Main Guard Room and no witness who deposed that they have seen the applicants near the Main Guard Room trying to exhort confession from Girija Rawat.

“We find that the order of conviction and sentence recorded on the basis of assumption and presumptions is inconsistent with the evidence on record seems prima facie erroneous and warrants an order of suspension of sentence and grant of bail to the applicants,” the order said.

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