Narendra Modi. File
Ex-judge Bedi rejects police account
In 2002, a young man, identified by his aged father as just a rickshaw puller, was shot dead in cold blood by a Gujarat police team.
The police version was that he had been sent by the Pakistan-based terror organistion, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), to assassinate the then Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, shortly after the Akshardham temple attack.
Now, 16 years after Sameer Khan was shot dead, a report submitted by a former Supreme Court judge, H.S. Bedi, concludes that he was killed in a fake encounter. However, there is no adverse finding against Mr. Modi, public servants or senior police officers.
Sameer Khan’s case is the last of the 17 suspected fake police encounters, which is part of Justice Bedi’s 229-page report submitted in the Supreme Court in late February 2018.
In public domain
After almost a year of being hidden in a sealed cover in one of the basement rooms of the court, a Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, recently decided to put the report in the public domain, against the protests of the Gujarat government. All 17 police shootings occurred between 2002 and 2006 when Mr. Modi was Chief Minister.
Of the 17, Justice Bedi has sought further trial against police officers concerned in only three cases. He has ordered a compensation of ₹10 lakh to ₹14 lakh to the families of the victims.
Most of the other cases in which he has recommended no further action deal with violent robberies gone fatal, murders and the repeated plot of suspects trying to escape police custody but ending up dead in shootouts with the police trying to defend themselves.
Justice Bedi, in the introductory passages of his report, clarifies the great degree of caution he took before recommending action against the police officers involved. He said he recommended trial against police officers whose versions tended to be “deeply suspicious” or in the cases in which there was a “reasonable chance of conviction.”
Besides Sameer Khan’s, the other two cases in which Justice Bedi has sought trial against the police officers for murder are the killings of “smuggler” Haji Haji Ismail in 2005 and Kasam Jafar of Mumbai. Justice Bedi has recommended ₹14 lakh in compensation to Jafar’s family.
But Sameer Khan’s case stands out. Justice Bedi says in his report that there is something “drastically amiss in the death and investigation in Sameer Khan’s case.”
The police version is that Khan had killed a policeman in a chain-snatching incident in 1996 and fled to Pakistan using a forged passport obtained from Bhopal. There, he had undergone weapons-training from the JeM in places such as Karachi, Lahore and and re-entered India through Nepal with assistance from the Inter-Services Intelligence. He had subsequently established “hideouts” in Mumbai, Rajkot and Bhopal before being finally tasked to kill Mr. Modi. Justice Bedi, however, is not impressed with the police version. He concludes that there is evidence in the case which lends “further support for my conclusion that the killing of the deceased [Sameer Khan] was indeed the result of a fake encounter.” Justice Bedi concludes that it was a case of “custodial death.”
Finally, the retired judge details the “tortuous and agonising” journey of Sameer’s father, Sarfaraz Khan, who lost his 30-year job as a driver with the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, when his son was declared an “absconder.” Justice Bedi recommends a compensation of ₹10 lakh to Sarfaraz Khan for the loss of his son.