On the night of July 3, then Intelligence Bureau (IB) chief Syed Asif Ibrahim sat in his North Block office – slowly going through a note summarising the much-anticipated charge sheet in the Ishrat Jahan encounter case filed by the CBI earlier that day.
The charge sheet, which only named Gujarat police officers, had mentioned prominently that the encounter – which resulted in the death of 19-year-old Ishrat Jahan and three men in the outskirts of Ahmedabad on June 15, 2004 – was an IB-led operation. Ibrahim took exception to the allegations, and fought hard to prevent his officials – including then special director Rajinder Kumar – from being arrested.
Ultimately, the CBI didn’t arrest Kumar – allowing him to retire from service on July 31, 2013, with his pension intact. The relief, however, was short-lived. The probe agency charge-sheeted Kumar and three junior officers seven months later.
“Gujarat cadre IPS officer Satish Verma was the reason for the CBI probe’s bias against me. He nursed a grudge against me because I had ticked him off during my Ahmedabad posting,” alleged Kumar. “I wrote two letters to then CBI director Ranjit Sinha, objecting to Verma’s presence in the probe team.”
Verma was a member of the special investigation team that initially probed the Ishrat Jahan case. Later, he assisted the CBI when the investigation was handed over to it.
Kumar was questioned by the CBI in May 2013, raising a storm in the IB. A few senior officials even expressed their discomfiture regarding the direction of the probe to Ibrahim.
By then, Kumar had been summoned for questioning again. There were strong indications that he would be arrested.
In the second week of June 2013, a meeting held by senior home ministry officials with IB and CBI officers at North Block arrived at a crucial decision. “Satish Verma was taken off the probe team for the sake of fairness,” said a former government official.
Verma didn’t physically participate in the second round of questioning on June 18, ultimately parting ways with the probe team on June 23.
Kumar alleged that the CBI had virtually outsourced its probe in the Ishrat case to Verma. “He questioned me the first time, and the second time – despite not being present – tried to remote-control the questioning. The interrogators tried playing funny with me, but CBI joint director Anil Palta (who was leading the interrogation) stopped them,” he said.
Kumar told Hindustan Times that a CBI official wrote in the file that no case was made out against him, only to be overruled by seniors. A former CBI official confirmed to HT on the condition of anonymity that it was Palta who described the case against the IB official as “very weak”.
However, Verma denied the allegations levelled against him by Kumar. “I was investigating the case and he was an accused. There was nothing else in between. I was just doing my duty,” he said.
When Kumar was charge-sheeted in February 2014, the CBI decided to seek the sanction of the ministry of home affairs – the IB’s administrative ministry – to prosecution him and three others. Agency director Ranjit Sinha also sought the attorney general’s opinion on whether such a sanction was required.
Interestingly, when the CBI filed its first charge sheet against Gujarat police officers, it didn’t seek a similar sanction from the state government.
Sinha refused to comment on the matter.
Nevertheless, it was this decision of the CBI that ultimately helped Kumar and the other IB officials escape prosecution. The central government changed hands in May 2014, and the new Union home ministry – under Rajnath Singh – decided that the agency’s case was not strong enough to warrant a trial for Kumar.
Verma now says that he will seek a certified copy of the case documents to check if he can challenge the home ministry’s decision in court. To this, Kumar has a quick retort: “What is his locus standi in the case?”