Gujarat High Court partially allows Sanjiv Bhatt’s plea for document access in 1996 NDPS case

The documents sought by Bhatt included investigation papers of ‘A’ summary report – where a charge is true but undetected – as well as pages from the case diary, 16 documents attached with the case diary, and copies of the two FIRs filed at Agthala police station in Banaskantha in 1996.

The Gujarat High Court on Monday partially allowed a plea by former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt to access documents which he was not provided with by the prosecution in relation to the trial in a 1996 case under charges of Narcotics Drugs Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) and directed the trial court to complete the trial within nine months.

The documents sought by Bhatt included investigation papers of ‘A’ summary report (where a charge is true but undetected) as well as pages from the case diary, 16 documents attached with the case diary, as well as copies of the two FIRs filed at Agthala police station in Banaskantha in 1996.

The court of Justice Ilesh Vora on Monday allowed Bhatt’s request for these documents, noting that the trial court had “materially erred” in rejecting Bhatt’s request for the case papers and directed the prosecution to supply the documents within 15 days.

The court noted that the documents which were not part of the chargesheet, but seized by the investigating agency during the investigation of the offence, “cannot be withheld by the prosecution merely on the ground that the documents sought to be summoned are not part of the chargesheet” and observed that these documents are necessary “for adjudication of trial as well as proper defence of the applicant accused (Bhatt)”.

Bhatt also sought the documents pertaining to the inquiry conducted by the DIG Bhuj range in 1996, one Mr Dhagal, but the request was not granted by the HC, primarily on the ground that Dhagal has not been cited as a witness and documents with regard to the alleged inquiry were not collected during the course of investigation. The court supported the trial court’s observation that had held that Bhatt is not entitled to the documents at this stage.

Observing that the investigating agency “is legally required to be fair, just and reasonable”, the HC said that since his arrest in the NDPS case, Bhatt has “filed many applications” either before the Gujarat HC or the trial court, as a result of which “trial could not commence”.

The court directed the Special Judge, NDPS court at Palanpur, “to expedite the trial proceedings and complete the same positively within a period of nine months.”

The fixing of this timeline was also due to observations in previous court orders that repeated applications by Bhatt were attempts to “prolong the proceedings”.

Bhatt, serving life sentence at a Palanpur jail for his conviction in a 1990 case of custodial torture, is also facing trial in an alleged drug-planting case of 1996. Bhatt, who was then the district superintendent of police at Banaskantha, had allegedly framed a lawyer in a narcotics case by allegedly planting 1.5 kg opium at a Palanpur hotel.

An A-summary report was filed by police in February 2000, indicating that an investigation was carried out but no evidence was found. In April 2018, following a plea by the state to revive the case, the Gujarat HC directed that a Special Investigation Team of the CID (Crime) Gujarat probe the case.

While the chargesheet was filed in November 2018, Bhatt moved two applications before the Palanpur trial court for summoning and production of certain documents “necessary for the fair trial”. The trial court in March this year had dismissed his applications.

The HC verdict states, “While rejecting the application, the trial court has not decided the issue judiciously and judicially and exercise of discretion is not in consonance with the scope and ambit of Section 91 of the (Criminal Procedure) Code.”

The high court also held the trial court’s rejection of Bhatt’s request to access the copies of FIR registered with Aagthala Police Station in Palanpur, as “improper” and that the documents were necessary for Bhatt to defend himself.

“This court is of view that, the conclusion of the learned trial court is improper. Trial court ought to have seen that pursuant to the FIR registered with Aagthala Police Station, the investigation was carried out and accordingly, Forensic Science Laboratory conducted analysis of the samples. Thus, though the copy of the FIR claimed by the applicant accused have no direct bearing on the present case…, the allegations made in the FIR are necessary for proper defence of the applicant accused (Bhatt)…”

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