The Dara Singh Story
- Dara Singh (right) was a petty criminal who is said to have run afoul of minister Rajendra Singh Rathore
- Dara Singh was killed in an encounter with police. His widow sought a CBI inquiry into his death.
- Case handed by SC to CBI. Many policemen, including two IPS officers, were arrested. But case has remained stalled; witnesses, including Dara Singh’s widow, have changed positions.
- Rathore discharged. He is again a minister in the new BJP government.
When Outlook asked CBI lawyer Sarfaraz Haider how many of his witnesses had turned hostile, he said he could not tell: at every hearing in the Dara Singh fake encouter case, witnesses are resiling. At least 70 CBI witnesses are said to have turned in six months.
The case is bears an uncanny resemblance to the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case of Gujarat. Dara Singh, a criminal from Churu district, worked for local liquor contractors. Apparently there was some animosity between him and BJP strongman Rajendra Singh Rathore, then a cabinet minister. Though there was no serious case against Dara Singh, Rajasthan police announced a reward of Rs 25,000 on his head in 2006. Later, the police stated that its special operations group (SOG) had killed Dara Singh in an encounter.
Following an appeal by Dara Singh’s widow, the Supreme Court handed over the case to the CBI in 2010. The central agency arrested Rathore and some policemen, including two IPS officers, additional director-general A.K. Jain and inspector-general A. Ponnuchami. Jain initially evaded arrest; the CBI had to announce a reward of Rs 10 lakh for his arrest before he surrendered. A sessions court, however, discharged Rathore even before charges could be framed.
An important prosecution witness, Vijay Shankar Singh, then home secretary, was killed in an accident on December 2, 2012. Dara Singh’s widow, who had earlier complained to the Supreme Court that the CBI was complicit, now filed a fresh petition requesting monitoring of the trial by the Supreme Court. But Justices S.S. Nijjar and Pinaki Chandra Ghose turned it down in September 2013, saying the court had no role after the investigation was completed and the chargesheet filed. Significantly, the widow is among the witnesses who have gone back on their statements.
The CBI had produced a list of 254 witnesses and around 100 of them are yet to depose in court. But the case has already been knocked out after key witnesses, including the widow and brothers of the deceased, a bus driver and several policemen, including those manning the control room, turned hostile. The widow has even denied lodging an FIR with the police. She told the court her lawyer S.S. Poonia no longer represented her.
The lawyer now alleges a conspiracy to derail the case that began when the BJP wrested power in both Rajasthan and at the Centre. While accusing the CBI of not defending its own case, Poonia claims there is threat to his life. In a letter to the district and sessions judge, he sought protection and leave to dissociate himself from the case.
While Jain has been acquitted by the Rajasthan high court and Rathore is once again a minister, Ponnuchami and four other accused remain in judicial custody. The CBI’s revision petition against the discharge of Rathore is still pending before the Supreme Court.
However, Kailasnath Bhatt, a BJP spokesman and one of the defence lawyers, does not find it strange. Witnesses, he says, have now started telling the truth, unable to face his cross-examination. The fake encounter case, he says, was politically motivated and based on lies.
Between allegations that fear and political pressure are at work, the so-called “caged parrot” continues to keep up a brave front and work. Haider says the case is strong and that he has circumstantial evidence that will hold. He vows to bring legal action against witnesses who have contradicted or denied their earlier statements. But it does not seem it will be easy.