The Bombay High Court on Wednesday said it would not be affected by the fact that several witnesses have turned hostile in the trial court in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case, PTI reported. Out of the 129 witnesses examined so far, 77 have been declared hostile.

The High Court was hearing applications filed by Sohrabuddin Sheikh’s brother Rubabuddin and the Central Bureau of Investigation challenging the discharge of police officials. Rubabuddin challenged the discharge of former Inspector General of Gujarat DG Vanzara and Indian Police Service officers Rajkumar Pandian and Dinesh MN. The CBI was challenging the discharge of a Rajasthan police constable and a Gujarat police officer.

Sheikh was a wanted criminal killed by the Gujarat Police in an encounter in November 2005, which is alleged to have been staged. Sheikh and his wife Kauserbi were travelling by bus from Hyderabad to Sangli in Maharashtra when they were stopped by the Gujarat and Rajasthan police, abducted and shot dead near Gandhinagar. A sub-inspector also allegedly raped Kauserbi before she was murdered.

Sheikh’s aide Tulsiram Prajapati was the sole witness to the murders. He was in police custody after the incident but was shot dead in another encounter in December 2006 when the police had claimed he was trying to escape from custody.

Rubabuddin Sheikh’s lawyer Gautam Tiwari began his arguments against the discharge of IPS officer Rajkumar Pandian by referring to the statement of a police driver, who was a key witness in the case. The driver, Nathuba Jadeja, had said in 2007 that he had seen the accused police officials abduct Sohrabuddin, Kauserbi and Prajapati. However, in December, Jadeja retracted his statement and claimed the CBI had forced him to make that statement, following which he was declared a hostile witness.

Advocate Raja Thakara, who represents former Udaipur Superintendent of Police Dinesh MN, pointed out that Jadeja was hostile and said his statement should no longer carry any weight.

Refusing to accept this argument, Justice AM Badar said, “We have read in the newspaper that witnesses are turning hostile, so the moment you raised an objection I understood that he [Jadeja] too must have turned hostile. That doesn’t matter at the revisional stage, since this court can’t be affected by what is going on in the trial court right now.”

“I have to go by what has been presented in the chargesheet,” the judge said. “It is unfortunate, but the longer a trial takes, the greater the chances are of witnesses turning hostile. The accused then say they must be discharged.” The defence can make this argument at a later stage, he added.

The court also rejected the discharge petitions filed by two sub-inspectors of the Rajasthan Police, and said that since the charges against them have been framed, it was not the time to seek discharge. It was now up to the trial court to convict them or not, the court added.