Additional metropolitan magistrate MV Chauhan committed the case to the sessions court in Ahmedabad for trial against Setalvad, former state Director General of Police RB Sreekumar and ex-Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Sanjiv Bhatt.
The Ahmedabad city police’s crime branch had registered an FIR (first information report) against them in June 2022, and a special investigation team (SIT) formed to probe the case had filed a chargesheet in the metropolitan magistrate’s court on September 21 last year.
While Mumbai-based activist Setalvad and Sreekumar, arrested in June 2022, are currently out on interim bail, Bhatt is serving a life sentence in a jail in Palanpur in Gujarat’s Banaskantha district in a custodial death matter.
According to existing legal norms, all cases relating to offences punishable with a life sentence or jail term exceeding seven years are to be committed to a sessions court for trial. The crime branch had registered the FIR against the trio after the Supreme Supreme Court last year dismissed a petition challenging the clean chit given by an earlier SIT to then-Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and others in cases related to post-Godhra communal riots.
The Gujarat riots were triggered by the torching of a coach of Sabarmati Express by a mob near Godhra station on February 27, 2002. Fifty-nine passengers, mostly Hindu Karsevaks returning from Ayodhya, were charred to death in the incident.
All three have been accused of abusing the process of law by conspiring to fabricate evidence with an attempt to frame “innocent people” for an offence punishable with capital punishment in connection with the 2002 riots. In its 6,300-page chargesheet, the SIT formed to investigate the case against the trio has cited 90 witnesses, including retired IPS officer-turned-lawyer Rahul Sharma and Congress Rajya Sabha MP Shaktisinh Gohil. A K Malhotra, a member of the earlier SIT appointed by the Supreme Court to look into the riots cases and the officer who had questioned Modi, is also among the witnesses. Among the documentary evidence in the chargesheet is a copy of a complaint filed by Zakia Jafri, widow of former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, in June 2006 in which she had accused 63 persons, including then-CM Modi, of “wilful dereliction” of duty.
Ehsan Jafri was among the 68 people killed at Ahmedabad’s Gulberg Housing Society during violence on February 28, 2002, a day after the Godhra train burning. Zakia Jafri’s protest petition in the Gujarat High Court, her statement as a witness, copies of nine affidavits filed by Sreekumar before the SC-appointed SIT, copies of fax and emails sent by Bhatt are also among documentary evidence produced by the SIT.
The FIR against them was registered a day after the apex court dismissed the plea of Zakia Jafri, and observed, “At the end of the day, it appears to us that a coalesced effort of the disgruntled officials of the State of Gujarat along with others was to create sensation by making revelations which were false to their own knowledge.”
Setalvad, Sreekumar and Bhatt were booked under sections of the Indian Penal Code related to forgery, fabricating false evidence with intent to procure conviction of capital offence, instituting criminal proceedings to cause injury, framing incorrect record or writing with intent to save person from punishment or property from forfeiture, and criminal conspiracy.