The Gujarat High Court on Friday asked the Special Investigation Team to try and complete robe into 2004 police encounter of Ishrat Jahan and three others, in one month, and also directed its chairman to probe the retractions of statements by some key witnesses.
The directions were issued by division bench of Justice Jayant Patel and Justice Abhilasha Kumari which reviewed progress of the probe by the SIT constituted in September last year.
"Efforts shall be made by the SIT to try and complete the investigation and submit progress report along with conclusion (if encounter was fake or genuine) by September 8," the court said, while fixing next hearing on September 9.
It also directed the SIT chairman R R Verma, who had taken charge last week, to investigate the retraction of statements by some of the key witnesses in the case.
"It will be for the SIT chairman to find out if any person has played role in manoeuvring into getting the statements being retracted and thereby frustrating valuable piece of evidence," the court said in its order.
It further said that Verma would have liberty to arrest any person who could have influenced the witness into retracting his statement. Verma could also conduct his custodial interrogation of that person, it said, adding that no other member of the SIT should be involved in the probe related to retraction of statements.
The court also found considerable 'substance' in the allegation made by SIT member Satish Verma in his affidavit filed in January against fellow member Mohan Jha and asked SIT chief to investigate the matter.
Satish Verma had alleged that Jha was connected with retraction of statement by some of the witnesses.
The court further said that if there was any material against any SIT member in the retraction of statements, Verma shall not take direct action but submit report regarding it to court in a sealed cover.
It took serious note of the retraction of statement by witnesses Moti Desai and Shiv Singh.
The Amicus Curie in the case Yogesh Lakhani also today expressed concern over the 'slow pace' of investigation and alleged that external forces were working towards derailing the probe in the case, and requested the court to give directions to the SIT to expedite the investigation.
Senior counsel Mukul Sinha representing one of the petitioners Gopinath Pillai, father of slain Javed Sheikh alias Pranesh Pillai, also expressed concern over the delay and alleged that there was as systematic effort to derail the probe by external as well as internal forces.
Explaining, the internal forces, he mentioned the allegation by SIT member Satish Verma against Jha in his January affidavit in the court which he said raises question on the faith and credibility of the SIT probe.
SIT chief R R Verma also informed the court that the reports from the Central Forensic Science Laboratory and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences would take not less than three months to be completed.
The probe in the case is being supervised directly by the Gujarat High Court which had constituted the SIT last year to investigate genuineness of the encounter after petitions filed by Ishrat's mother Shamima Kausar and Gopinath Pillai, father of another victim of the encounter -- Javed Sheikh alias Pranesh Pillai.
The Court also termed the failure of the Ministry of Home affairs to file affidavit as directed by it during the last hearing as unfortunate and directed the Union government counsel Pankaj Champaneri to make sure that affidavits were filed before the next hearing on September 9.
The secretary and joint secretary in Union ministry of home affairs were likely to submit an affidavit in the court explaining the episode where the name of IPS officer J V Ramudu was suggested for the post of SIT chairman by the ministry without taking his consent.
Ramudu had declined to take up the job due to health reasons following which R R Verma was appointed as SIT chairman.
Ramudu's statement that his consent was not taken by the union government, ran contrary to the statement made in the court by the Union government.'The Court had come down heavily on the union government saying that, Government of India should have been aware of Ramudu's ill health before suggesting his name. It had further asked the Union government not to make proceedings in this case as mockery and added that the approach of the union government was very casual in the case.