The case into the fake-encounter killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh has seen the CBI special court in Mumbai discharge 16 accused individuals. Among them are senior officers of the Indian Police Services, such as the former deputy inspector general of police in Gujarat, DG Vanzara, the former superintendent of Rajasthan police, Dinesh MN, and the former superintendent of Gujarat police’s Anti-Terrorism Squad, Rajkumar Pandiyan. Since the trial began, in November 2017, over 90 witnesses have turned hostile. On 21 September this year, the court has summoned a key witness to depose—VL Solanki, a retired police inspector who played a central role in the investigation that led to the arrest of these senior police officials.
Solanki was an investigating officer in the Sohrabuddin case, who conducted a preliminary enquiry, whichdetermined that Sohrabuddin’s death was staged. On the basis of Solanki’s enquiry, the Gujarat Police filed the first chargesheet of the case in January 2007. Three years later, acting on a petition that Sohrabuddin’s brother Rubabuddin had moved six days after the police filed its chargesheet, the Supreme Court transferred the investigation to the CBI. In July 2010, the CBI filed a chargesheet, which accused, in addition to the senior police officials, the then minister of state in the Gujarat home ministry and the current BJP national president, Amit Shah. Shah, too, was subsequently discharged in December 2014, by MB Gosavi, who took over as the presiding judge of the CBI special court after the death of the judge BH Loya. Gosavi passed the discharge order in Shah’s favour in the same month that he began hearing the case.
According to the CBI’s chargesheet, on the night of 22 November 2005, Sohrabuddin, his wife Kauser Bi and his associate Tulsiram Prajapati were travelling by a luxury bus from Hyderabad to Sangli, in Maharashtra, when their journey was intercepted by Gujarat and Rajasthan police officials. All three were then taken to Valsad, in Gujarat. While Prajapati was then taken to Udaipur by the Rajasthan police, where he was kept in custody for five days, Sohrabuddin and Kauser Bi were taken to Disha farm-house, near Ahmedabad. On the night of 25 November, Sohrabuddin was shot dead. The next morning, his wife, Kauser Bi, too, was shot and her body was burnt, and in December 2006, Prajapati was killed as well. Solanki’s investigation was crucial in establishing the chain of events—for instance, he identified key witnesses such as Sharad Apte, a passenger in the bus, who confirmed that Sohrabuddin and Kauser Bi were travelling in it.
In July this year, after the Gujarat police withdrew the protection that had been granted to Solanki and his family, the retired inspector wrote a letter to the Ahmedabad police commissioner expressing fear for their lives and safety, and requesting him to reinstate the security. Solanki also copied the letter to, among others, the director general of police of Gujarat, the director general of Gujarat Police’s Criminal Investigation Department, the Gujarat government and the CBI special court adjudicating the Sohrabuddin case. He asks in the letter, “Should we now believe that the security cover has been lifted to mentally pressurise me and my family with the intention of making us hostile witnesses?” On the eve of his date to appear in court, Solanki spoke to Sagar, a staff writer at The Caravan, about the investigation and findings in the Sohrabuddin case, and the impact the case has had on his life.
Sagar: You have written a letter to the Gujarat police that you and your family’s lives are under threat because you are a prime witness in the Soharabuddin case. What kind of pressure are you going through?
VL Solanki: They had initially given me police protection on their own. On 18 July 2018, they withdrew the police protection. After two days, I made an application to all the agencies—DGP, Gujarat; DG of CID Gujarat; home secretary [of the] Gujarat state home department; Supreme Court of India; Gujarat High Court; DG of CBI; and the judge of the Mumbai session court. But till today, no action has been taken on my application. Second thing is that now I’ve received the summons for attending the court. I’m the prime witness of this case. I’ve made preliminary enquiry. After the completion of my preliminary enquiry, the case was registered. And it was proved on the paper that it is a false encounter. During the course of the investigation, I had investigated the important aspects of the case. At present, I’m not even in a capacity to attend the court due to this withdrawal of my police protection. I can’t attend the Honorable court at cost of my life. This is my situation. And you people—[journalists]—almost all the guys who know the credibility of this case, they know that people [involved] are all criminals, they can do anything at any time.
S: You question in your letter whether the police protection is being withdrawn so that you turn hostile. On whose behalf do you think Gujarat police is acting?
VLS: The thing is, I cannot admit these [things.] But you people can very well understand. You know the reason. Why should I expose myself? You people are smart enough to make an assessment according to my situation.
S: During the time you led the enquiry, did Amit Shah ever figure in your investigation, or did you find out whether the then chief minister Narendra Modi was in the know?
VLS: The thing that you want to know is a matter of investigation. I can’t say that.
S: According to the CBI chargesheet, the origin of Sohrabuddin’s encounter lies in an extortion racket that politicians ran in collusion with police officers and criminals. Did you anything find similar in your investigation?
VLS: We can’t do anything about it, can we? Yes, Sohrabuddin and Tulsiram Prajapati, they used to do vasooli—extortion. But I can’t comment on politicians.
S: The CBI chargesheet says the racket was being run by Amit Shah.
VLS: No, I can’t say that. You people know these things. Ab usme main jayeda hoshiyari dikhaun ye thik nahi hai [Now if I act too clever, that would not be right].
In short, I’ll tell you that I have suspicion that a conspiracy might have been hatched to do something to harm me or my family since my protection cover has been withdrawn. That’s the only reason why I’m insisting on my police protection. So if anything happens to me tomorrow, they [the conspirators] should be held responsible.
S: Could you discuss how you were brought to the investigation and how you unravelled the conspiracy behind the fake encounter killing of Sohrabuddin?
VLS: At the first stage, actually, this enquiry went to one DSP-ACP [deputy superintendent-assistant commissioner of police]. But the ACP denied and somehow neglected that enquiry, and ultimately I was asked to make a detailed investigation. So during the course of my enquiry I had visited Madhya Pradesh, and the village of Sohrabuddin. Before going to MP, I had been to Hyderabad.
For ten days, I made a detailed enquiry. I was able to locate the travel agency bus in which Sohrabuddin and his wife were traveling. I came to know from the travel agency people. That luxury bus was met with [by the Gujarat and Rajasthan police officials] near Tandola village, which falls within the boundary of Karnataka, on the Bombay-Hyderabad road. Then after that I made detailed enquiry and got [details of co-passengers] from the travel agency. I was able to ascertain the mobile number and residence of Apte’s family. In the next stage I went to this town Sangli, where I went to the family’s home. I spoke with them politely, and then I took their statements. In their statements also, they told me Sohrabuddin and his wife Kauser Bi were traveling together. “Rao ka dhaba”—there is one dhaba, hotel type dhaba on the highway, almost 10–15 kilometres before Tandola village—at around 12–12.30 am, the luxury bus stopped near that dhaba for dinner. The Apte family who had sat near them saw Sohrabuddin and Kauser Bi also.
Then at around 1–1.30, the bus started and near Tandola, and within two–three kilometres, the Gujarat police’s car intercepted the bus and brought it to a standstill. They also pulled over one car behind the bus. They made Sohrabuddin come down. When Sohrabuddin alighted, his wife also followed saying, “Mere shauhar ko tum le ja rahe ho, main bhi sath aati hun”—[You are taking away my husband, I’ll also come with you.] They [police officers] came under pressure ki saala yahan pe kuch karenge toh sabpassenger bhi alert ho jayega—[If we do anything here, all the passengers will become alert.] So they took both Sohrabuddin and Kauser Bi with them.
S: Was Tulsiram Prajapati not with them at that point of time?
VLS: I can’t say that. Actually, Tulsiram Prajapati was shadow of Sohrabuddin. Wherever [Sohrabuddin] went, he would go too. They were partners in crime. There was a third person. To identify the third person also I did extensive investigation. During that time, I sent a report to my additional director-general that, “I may be allowed to go to Udaipur Central Jail for the enquiry of this Prajapati, as Tulsiram Prajapati is the most important witness in this case.” But woh toh phir sab hawa mein chal gaya. Jo report tha sab nikal gaya.—[All those requests later disappeared in thin air, the report to the ADG also got destroyed].
Tulsi Prajapati was also met with an encounter. Second important thing is I also found the place where Sohrabuddin and Kauser Bi were kept when they were brought to Ahmedabad. They were kept in the Disha Farm. Then, Sohrabuddin was encountered. The next day of the encounter of Sohrabuddin, Kauser Bi was shifted to Arham farmhouse in Gandhinagar. So this is what happened.
S: Do you think that you were not promoted and retired as a police inspector because you led the investigation in the Sohrabuddin case in a fair manner?
VLS: It’s a fact. You see one thing, whenever there is even a small disciplinary enquiry going on or any complaint against a public servant, his promotion is kept in abeyance forever. This is a general government procedure. On the other hand, you have a case where senior IPS officers have been accused of murder and chargesheeted in the same—they have been given promotion and reinstated to their job. This is our India.
S: What made you stand your ground? Did you have backing from anyone?
VLS: It was my sole responsibility. If you are not partial in your investigation, and not working outside the purview of the constitution, then there is no need for you to be scared of anything.
S: I would like to ask you again if there was any pressure on you while you were leading the investigation. The then additional DGP GC Raiger had stated before the CBI that Amit Shah had called a meeting between Geeta Johri, the former inspector general of Gujarat Police’s CID, PC Pande, the director general of police, and Raiger in December 2006. Raiger said that Shah “scolded us for not being able to tame Solanki, who wanted to drag the matter further in his enquiry by way of examining Tulsiram Prajapati for which he had sought permission. He told us to wrap up the matter.” Could you tell us what Geeta Johri had told you?
VLS: That’s the truth. Whatever is there on the paper is all true. I would like to say that these things are known to everyone.
S: Then how did you manage to do your investigation?
VLS: You know very well what is not possible in those situations. All these have already come in the newspaper as well. There is no meaning to say that again. It’s an open story.
S: What is your hope from the outcome of the ongoing trial?
VLS: There is no justice in India.
This interview has been edited and condensed.