HC dismisses ex-IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt’s appeal against conviction in 1990 custodial death case

The Gujarat High Court on Tuesday dismissed an appeal filed by former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Sanjiv Bhatt against his conviction in a 1990 custodial death case in which he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

A division bench of Justices Ashutosh Shastri and Sandeep Bhatt upheld the conviction of Bhatt and co-accused Pravinsinh Zala under sections 302 (murder), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code.

The court also dismissed an appeal filed by the state government seeking to enhance the sentences of five other accused who were acquitted of murder but convicted under sections 323 and 506.

While Bhatt and Zala are lodged in jail, the court cancelled the bail bonds of these five accused who are out of jail.

“We have also gone through the reasoning recorded by the trial court while convicting the concerned accused persons for offences punishable under section 302 of the IPC,” the division bench said while reading out the order.

“From the evidence based on record, we are of the opinion that the trial court has rightly convicted (five) accused…for offences punishable under sections 323,” the judges said. The judgement was not yet available on the high court website.

The sessions court in Jamnagar had on June 20, 2019, convicted Bhatt and another police officer, Pravinsinh Zala, of murder.

On October 30, 1990, then additional superintendent of police Bhatt detained around 150 people following a communal riot in Jamjodhpur town following a ‘bandh’ call against the halting of BJP leader L K Advani’s ‘rath yatra’ for the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya.

Prabhudas Vaishnani, one of the detained persons, died in hospital after his release.

Vaishnani’s brother accused Bhatt and six other police officials of torturing him in custody and causing his death.

Bhatt was arrested on September 5, 2018, in another case where he is accused of falsely implicating a man for drug possession. The trial in the case is underway.

He is also an accused in a case of alleged fabrication of evidence in connection with the 2002 Gujarat riots cases along with activist Teesta Setalvad and former Gujarat director general of police R B Sreekumar.

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Earlier, Bhatt hit headlines when he filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court alleging then chief minister Narendra Modi’s role in the 2002 Gujarat riots. The allegations were debunked by a special investigation team.

He was suspended from service in 2011 and sacked by the Ministry of Home Affairs in August 2015 for ‘unauthorised absence’.

In the custodial death case, the Jamnagar court sentenced the other five policemen — sub-inspectors Dipak Shah and Sailesh Pandya, and constables Pravinsih Jadeja, Anopsinh Jethva and Keshubha Jadeja — to two years in prison.

The Supreme Court had in June 2019 refused to entertain Bhatt’s plea seeking to examine 11 additional witnesses in the case.

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