Fortunes of once 'key witnesses' in Sohrab case fade

Fortunes of once 'key witnesses' in Sohrabuddin case fade as six FIRs filed against builder brothers

More cases are likely to be registered against the brothers in the coming days

The brothers, who own Popular Builders Group, are behind bars in as many as half a dozen cases, all pertaining to property disputes. Representative image. Credit: iStock.

Almost ten years after their testimonies gave "crucial evidence" to CBI in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case which led to arrest of several key suspects IPS officers and a Gujarat minister, the lives of two builder brothers, Dashrath and Raman Patel, have seen dramatic turn of events at least in the past four months. Both of them are in jail in judicial custody after their arrest in August.

The brothers, who own Popular Builders Group, are behind bars in as many as half a dozen cases, all pertaining to property disputes. Some of these cases are part of civil litigation, while some are said to have been settled or compromised by the parties who have come out as "aggrieved" now. If sources in the state government are to be believed, more cases are likely to be registered against the brothers in the coming days.

The latest hint came on December 29 when the Ahmedabad income tax department's investigation wing shot off a letter addressed to Vastrapur police station asking it to register a criminal case against one of the brothers and his other relatives for violating prohibition of benami properties transaction act, 1988; the Gujarat agricultural land ceiling act, 1960 and the Gujarat cooperative societies act, among others along with sections of Indian Penal Code. When contacted Vastrapur police inspector R M Sarode, "I have not yet received the letter." Sources in the income tax department said that the letter has been written by the Deputy Director of Income Tax (investigation). This will be the seventh FIR against the builder brothers.

It all started after the Patel family got embroiled in a domestic violence case. On August 12, Raman Patel's daughter-in-law filed a case against her husband and other family members including Patel himself. This was followed by a massive I-T raid on 20 premises of the builders' group and over a dozen associated firms. It was reported that a large cache of documents was recovered from several places, including a "secret flat."

Some of the cases against the brothers are related to breach of rent agreement, land grabbing, cheating and fraudulent means in acquiring lands. The brothers have moved the high court with at least eight petitions by the end of December, seeking various reliefs that include bail and quashing of FIRs. Last week, while granting bail, the high court had observed that FIR reflected some rent agreement for which civil suits have been filed, which are pending.

Popular Builders Firing Case

The Patel brothers had first hit headlines in December 2004 when two gunmen fired at their office in Navrangpura. Rajasthan-based gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh, Tulsiram Prajpati, Daniel Sylvester Desai, among others were booked. The investigation was handed over to Ahmedabad Detection of Crime Branch (DCB) where controversial IPS officer D G Vanzara was posted as Deputy Commissioner of Police. Eventually, the Patel brothers were also booked as accused in the case. The chargesheet was filed in 2006 and since then it is awaiting trial.

Interestingly, most of these accused turned witnesses in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case by 2010 when CBI began its probe, including Dashrath and Raman Patel. Their testimonies named several police officers including IPS officers (retired) D G Vanazara, Abhay Chudasama, Rajkumar Pandian among others. Their testimonies also mentioned the name of then Minister of State for Home Amit Shah, now Union Minister.

CBI found that the firing at Popular Builders' office was part of "police and political" nexus who wanted to eliminate Sohrabuddin Sheikh against whom there was no case in Gujarat. None of the claims of CBI stood in the trial and all the accused were acquitted. Shah, Chudasama, Vanzara were among the key suspects who were discharged by the special CBI court. During the trial, CBI didn't call Patel brothers to examine them in the court as witness number 60 and witness number 67.