The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)’s probe into the high-profile fake encounter killings of Sohrabuddin Sheikh-Tulsi Prajapati is set for a quiet burial with the agency dragging its feet on appealing the discharges by the Mumbai trial court. Eight of the accused have been discharged in the past seven months but the CBI has not even taken the mandatory first step of seeking the law ministry’s nod to initiate an appeal in the Bombay high court, agency sources told HT.

In at least five of the eight instances, the 90-day ceiling on challenging a discharge has already lapsed while in the remaining three, the deadline will lapse by July-end. “In cases where a court discharges an accused, the agency needs to take the permission of the law ministry in case it wants to appeal the order. On scrutiny, if the law ministry gives its concurrence based on the merits of a proposed appeal, the agency can go ahead,” said a CBI official. An official familiar with the case added, “No such approval has been sought by the CBI from the law ministry in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case, which is very surprising especially because it is a court-monitored probe.”

The Supreme Court had shifted the trial out of Gujarat to Mumbai to ensure an impartial trial. The Gujarat government’s counsel had in 2007, admitted in an affidavit in the apex court that Sohrabbudin had been killed in a fake encounter. “This was a court-monitored probe and the CBI should have ordinarily gone in appeal, at least in cases where it deemed fit. Here, we are talking of clean chits,” said an official.

HT sought a response from the CBI through a written questionnaire, submitted on June 17, but received no comment till Tuesday night on whether it seeks to go in appeal against any of the eight discharges.

The discharges began in December 2014, when the court gave a clean chit to former Gujarat junior home minister and BJP chief Amit Shah, rapping the agency’s probe for lacking evidence to back up allegations on his role in the conspiracy.

While discharging Shah, the court had said the CBI mostly relied on evidence, which is hearsay in nature. His lawyers had argued that the CBI “deliberately and mischievously” connected the alleged fake encounter case of Sohrabuddin with that of eyewitness Prajapati to falsely implicate Shah and “serve their political masters” at that particular time.

After Shah, seven others were discharged, including Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Abhay Chudasama, former Rajasthan home minister Gulabchand Kataria, Rajasthan-based businessman Vimal Patni, former Gujarat police chief PC Pande, Gujarat police’s then additional director general of police Geetha Johri, Yashpal Chudasama and Ajay Patel. The court gave clean chits to the seven on grounds including lack of evidence or lack of prosecution sanction from competent government authority.

As per the CBI’s case, in July 2005 a decision was taken to kill Sohrabuddin as the behest of two Rajasthan-based marble traders whilePrajapati was killed in December 2006 since he was a key witness to the killings of Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife Kausar Bi in November 2005.