A court in Gujarat on Thursday sentenced sacked IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt to life imprisonment in a custodial death case dating back to 1990, when he was posted as an additional superintendent of police in Jamnagar district.
Bhatt, who had earlier levelled allegations against then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi over his handling of the 2002 Gujarat riots, has been behind the bars in Palanpur for the last nine months in another case of allegedly framing a man in a drug-seizure matter.
The Gujarat-cadre officer was suspended from the Indian Police Service in 2011 and sacked by the Union ministry of home affairs in August, 2015 on the ground of "unauthorised absence from service".
On Thursday, the Jamnagar-based court of sessions judge D M Vyas convicted Bhatt and police constable Pravinsinh Zala under section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and sentenced them to life in jail in the 29-year-old custodial death case.
Five others -- sub-inspectors Dipak Shah and Sailesh Pandya and constables Pravinsinh Jadeja, Anopsinh Jethva and Keshubha Jadeja -- were sentenced to two years in jail for custodial torture.
Bhatt's wife Shweta Bhatt described the verdict as "injustice".
"The injustice is very apparent. We will fight against this injustice. But I will be able to make further comments only after consulting my lawyers," said Shweta Bhatt, who contested the 2012 Gujarat assembly election against Modi from Maninagar in Ahmedabad.
On October 30, 1990, Bhatt, then an additional superintendent of police, had detained around 150 people following a communal riot in Jamjodhpur town of Jamnagar. The riot broke out after a bandh call against the halting of BJP leader L K Advani's rath-yatra agitation for a Ram temple in Ayodhya.
One of those detained, Prabhudas Vaishnani, died in a hospital after his release.
His brother Amrutbhai lodged a complaint alleging that Bhatt and other police officials tortured Vaishnani in custody, causing his death.
The case could not proceed for years as the state government did not give its nod for prosecuting Bhatt and others. The sanction for prosecution was given later.
During the trial, public prosecutor Tushar Gokani contended that Bhatt's role in the torture was evident.
On September 5, 2018, Bhatt was arrested in another case, in which he was accused of falsely implicating a man for possession of drugs in Palanpur in 1996. The trial in the case is going on.
Bhatt hit the headlines when he alleged in an affidavit before the Supreme Court that after the Godhra train-burning incident of February 27, 2002, Modi, at a meeting, had asked senior police officers to let the majority community vent its anger.
The Special Investigation Team appointed by the apex court to investigate the 2002 riots had concluded that Bhatt, being a very junior officer then, was not present at the meeting.