Fake Encounter: HC Hands Life Term To Ex-Cop Pradeep Sharma, Says Overwhelming Evidence Against Him

The high court upheld the conviction and life sentence imposed on 13 other accused in the case, including 12 former policemen and a civilian.

Bombay HC sentences former policemen to life imprisonment

The Bombay High Court on Tuesday convicted and sentenced former policeman and controversial encounter specialist, Pradeep Sharma, to life imprisonment, and upheld the conviction of 13 other accused in the 2006 fake encounter of Ramnarayan Gupta, an alleged close aide of gangster Chhota Rajan.

A division bench of Justices Revati Mohite Dere and Gauri Godse said the "prosecution has proved that Gupta was killed by the police, by trigger-happy cops, and the same was made to look like a genuine encounter". The high court upheld the conviction and life sentence imposed on 13 other accused in the case, including 12 former policemen and a civilian.

The bench in its judgment said the "protectors/guardians of law cannot be permitted to act as criminals in uniform and if this is permitted then it would lead to anarchy". The court noted that the prosecution has proved beyond reasonable doubt the abduction, wrongful confinement and killing of Gupta in a fake encounter with "credible, cogent and legally admissible evidence".

"We find that the prosecution has proved beyond reasonable doubt that Ramnarayan was killed brutally in cold blood by the accused when he was in their custody and that to cover up the same, given it a colour of a genuine encounter," the high court said.

The bench quashed the 2013 judgment passed by a sessions court acquitting Sharma due to lack of evidence.

The high court deemed the lower court's order as "perverse and unsustainable", highlighting glaring irregularities in the previous judgment. "The trial court had overlooked the overwhelming evidence available against Sharma. The common chain of evidence unerringly proves his involvement in the case," the court said.

On November 11, 2006, a police team picked up Ramnarayan Gupta alias Lakkhan Bhaiya from the Vashi area in neighbouring Navi Mumbai, along with his friend Anil Bheda, and killed him in a staged encounter near Versova in western Mumbai the same evening.

The high court, in its judgment, said the police officers, who are protectors of the law, had grossly misused and abused their position by abducting and killing Gupta in a fake encounter, and by giving it the colour of a genuine encounter.

The bench further said that death in police custody must be curbed with a heavy hand and must be viewed seriously.

"There can be no room for leniency as the persons involved, that is the police, are the arm of the State, whose duty is to protect the citizens and not to take law into their own hands and commit gruesome offences against them," the court said.

The high court convicted Sharma on all charges, including criminal conspiracy, murder, kidnapping and wrongful confinement, and sentenced him to life imprisonment.

The bench directed the former policeman to surrender before the concerned sessions court in three weeks. Sharma is also accused in the case of the killing of businessman Mansukh Hiran related to the recovery of gelatin sticks outside the residence of industrialist Mukesh Ambani in 2021. The Supreme Court granted him bail in the case.

The convicted accused are former policemen Nitin Sartape, Sandeep Sarkar, Tanaji Desai, Pradeep Suryavanshi, Ratnakar Kamble, Vinayak Shinde, Devidas Sapkal, Anant Patade, Dilip Palande, Pandurag Kokam, Ganesh Harpude, Prakash Kadam and Hitesh Solanki, who is a civilian. The high court overturned the conviction and life sentence of six others, leading to their acquittal.

Manoj Mohan Raj, Sunil Solanki, Mohammad Shaikh, Suresh Shetty, Akhil Khan and Shailendra Pandey, all civilians, have been acquitted.

Gupta's associate Anil Bheda was released from custody in December 2006. However, in July 2011, a few days before he was scheduled to depose in court, Bheda was allegedly abducted and killed. The state CID is presently probing the case.

Taking note of Bheda's case, the high court said that till date, the CID has not taken any steps to conclude the investigation and trace the perpetrators.

"It is extremely unfortunate that a prime eyewitness in this case lost his life. It is a travesty of justice for the family. It is important for the police to investigate and to take the case to its logical end, lest people lose faith in the system," the high court said.

Twenty-two individuals, including 13 policemen, were initially charged in the case. Following a trial, the sessions court in 2013 found 21 of the accused guilty, sentencing them to life imprisonment.

Two of the convicted individuals died while in custody. The convicted parties lodged appeals in the high court against their convictions, while the prosecution and the deceased victim's brother, Ramprasad Gupta, appealed against Sharma's acquittal.

During the proceedings, special public prosecutor Rajiv Chavan contended that the police officers, who were supposed to uphold the law, were themselves part of a premeditated and ruthless murder. The prosecution sought Sharma's conviction on the grounds that he was the primary instigator and leader behind the entire abduction and murder operation.