New Delhi, October 3, 2023: In a recent and pivotal development within the Indian judicial system, the Supreme Court of India has rendered a verdict of substantial consequence in a case involving the former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, Sanjiv Bhatt. This landmark decision has seen the apex court imposing costs amounting to Rupees 3 Lakhs on SanjivBhatt while simultaneously dismissing the petitions he had filed, which alleged bias and unfairness on the part of the presiding judge overseeing the alleged drug planting case against him. The esteemed bench, composed of Justices Vikram Nath and Rajesh Bindal, has mandated that Sanjiv Bhatt deposits Rupees One Lakh for each of the three petitions filed by him into the Gujarat High Court Advocates Welfare Fund.
Background of the Case
The origins of this intricate legal case can be traced back to the year 1996 when Sanjiv Bhatt was discharging his duties as a superintendent of police in the Banaskantha district. It was during his tenure that the district police, operating under Bhatt’s jurisdiction, apprehended Sumersingh Rajpurohit, a lawyer hailing from Rajasthan, in 1996. Law enforcement authorities claimed that they had discovered narcotics in a hotel room in Palanpur town, where Mr. Rajpurohit was residing.
However, as time unfolded the legal intricacies of this matter, the Rajasthan police contradicted the assertions made by their counterparts in Gujarat. The Rajasthan police vociferously maintained that Mr. Rajpurohit had been falsely implicated by the Banaskantha police with the clandestine intention of compelling him to transfer the ownership rights of a disputed property situated in Pali, Rajasthan.
But the story did not culminate here. Former police inspector IB Vyas, in 1999, voiced concerns regarding the integrity of the case, demanding an exhaustive and impartial inquiry into the allegations of drug planting. Subsequently, in June 2018, the Gujarat High Court stepped in, entrusting the investigation to the state’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID). This decision ultimately led to Sanjiv Bhatt’s arrest in September 2018.
In due course, charges were formally pressed against both SanjivBhatt and IB Vyas under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act.
Sanjiv Bhatt’s Petitions
Amidst the intricate legal proceedings, Sanjiv Bhatt initiated three crucial petitions before the Supreme Court. These petitions assumed significant importance in the unfolding legal battle, each addressing distinct facets of his quest for justice. Below are the particulars of the three petitions:
1. Transfer of Trial: In the initial petition (SLP(Crl) No. 11884/2023), Sanjiv Bhatt sought the transfer of the trial to the Court of the senior-most Additional Sessions Judge at Banaskantha. The impetus behind this plea stemmed from allegations of bias on the part of the present trial judge, who occupied the position of the third Additional Sessions Judge.
2. Recording of Trial Proceedings: The second petition (SLP(Crl) No. 11943/2023) earnestly requested the court to issue directions for the audio-video recording of the trial court proceedings. This request, emblematic of SanjivBhatt’s unwavering commitment to a fair and transparent legal process, sought to ensure an unblemished record of the trial.
3. Summoning Additional Witnesses: The third petition (Diary Number 37428/2023) was filed with the intention of summoning 19 witnesses who, intriguingly, had initially been cited by the prosecution but were subsequently omitted from the roster of witnesses during the examination phase. Sanjiv Bhatt vigorously contended that his appeal to summon these witnesses was not a tactic to procrastinate the trial. Instead, it was rooted in the fundamental need for a comprehensive and impartial examination of the case, a necessity arising from the intricate web of events.
Supreme Court’s Decision
Upon these petitions being presented for contemplation before the Supreme Court, the bench comprising Justices Vikram Nathand Rajesh Bindal undertook a meticulous examination of the arguments proffered by Sanjiv Bhatt’s legal representatives.
Despite Sanjiv Bhatt’s steadfast insistence that his petitions were motivated solely by the pursuit of justice and fairness in the legal process, the Supreme Court arrived at a distinct determination. The bench, while dismissing the petitions, concurrently decreed the imposition of costs.
During the course of these proceedings, Justice Vikram Nath, in a trenchant observation, inquired of Sanjiv Bhatt, “How many times have you been to the Supreme Court? At least a dozen times?” This poignant query served to underscore the recurrent legal contests initiated by Sanjiv Bhatt across an array of legal forums.
The bench, In its considered judgment, underscored that SanjivBhatt had, on numerous occasions, sought recourse through legal representation that was amply funded. In light of these circumstances, the imposition of costs was deemed to be apt and commensurate with the situation.
It Is of noteworthy import that Sanjiv Bhatt is currently serving a life sentence in a separate case, a custodial death case originating from the year 1990. His conviction in July 2019 in connection with this distinct case stands as a pivotal chapter in his legal odyssey.
The Supreme Court’s decision in the case involving Sanjiv Bhatt has multifaceted implications. It not only addresses the specific issues raised in the three petitions but also underscores the significance of a transparent and efficient legal process. The imposition of costs on Bhatt serves as a reminder of the responsibility that comes with initiating legal challenges, especially in cases with substantial public interest and legal complexity. As this legal saga continues, it remains a focal point in the broader discourse on justice, accountability, and the rule of law in India.