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Supreme Court Grants Exemption to Ex-Mumbai Cop Pradeep Sharma in Fake Encounter Case Pending Next Hearing

The Supreme Court has accepted the appeal of Pradeep Sharma, a former Mumbai Police encounter specialist, against his life imprisonment sentence by the Bombay High Court in a case related to a staged killing in 2006. The  Supreme Court has also issued a notice to the Maharashtra government regarding Sharma’s plea.

Justices Hrishikesh Roy and Prashant Kumar Mishra provided interim relief to Pradeep Sharma, allowing him to remain free until the next hearing. The High Court had previously ordered Sharma to surrender within three weeks after its decision on March 19. The case involves the death of Lakhan Bhaiya, an alleged associate of gangster Chhota Rajan.

The High Court reversed the Trial Court’s acquittal of Sharma, criticizing the trial judge for overlooking key circumstances. The High Court termed the earlier acquittal as “perverse” and “unsustainable” due to the exclusion of relevant evidence. The court concluded that the evidence pointed towards Sharma’s guilt.

Background of the Case

Vashi resident Lakhan Bhaiya, whose real name was Ramnarayan Gupta, was allegedly a former gangster. He was abducted and killed in a staged police shooting in Versova on November 11, 2006. The Special Investigation Team (SIT) alleged that the encounter was led by former senior inspector Pradeep Sharma, who conspired with Lakhan Bhaiya’s disgruntled business partner to eliminate him.

In July 2013, the prime accused, Pradeep Sharma, was acquitted, while three other policemen—Inspectors Pradeep Suryawanshi, Dilip Palande, and constable Tanaji Desai—were convicted of murder. The remaining 18 accused were convicted of abetting the encounter.

One hundred and ten prosecution witnesses and two defence witnesses were examined during the trial. The trial court disbelieved the ballistic report that showed the bullet recovered from Lakhan Bhaiya’s head was fired from Sharma’s gun. Additionally, the prosecution faced a setback after the sole eyewitness, Anil Bheda—who was abducted along with the victim—disappeared days before his court deposition in 2011. His decomposed body was found two months later.

Lakhan Bhaiya’s brother, Ramprasad Gupta, filed an appeal against Sharma’s acquittal and appealed for the death penalty for 12 police officers who were part of the encounter team.

However, the High Court, while sentencing Sharma to life imprisonment, also upheld the life sentence of 13 convicts and acquitted six civilians. The court also expressed its dismay over the “gruesome” death of the sole eyewitness, Anil Bheda, days before his deposition in 2011. It termed it a “shame” and a “travesty of justice” that the prime witness lost his life, yet no one has been held accountable to date. The court hoped that Bheda’s perpetrators would be prosecuted.

Pradeep Sharma’s Controversial Career

Pradeep Sharma is a 1983 batch Maharashtra police officer who is alleged to have killed 112 gangsters during his 25 years of police service. He was first dismissed in 2008 under a rarely invoked Act of the Constitution due to his alleged links with the underworld and accusations of amassing over Rs 3,000 crore. Although he was cleared of these allegations in 2009 and reinstated as an inspector, he was arrested again in January 2010 in connection with the Lakhan Bhaiya killing and subsequently dismissed. After his acquittal in 2013, Sharma was re-arrested in the Antilia Bomb Scare and Mansukh Hiran Murder Case in 2021. However, last year, the Supreme Court granted Sharma bail.

Legal Representatives

The counsels representing Sharma in the case are senior advocates Mukul Rohatgi and Sidharth Luthra. On the other hand, the State is represented by senior Advocate Yug Mohit Chaudhry.

The Supreme Court’s decision to grant interim relief to Pradeep Sharma has brought a temporary respite to the former encounter specialist. With the case now pending further hearings, the legal battle is far from over. The complex and controversial nature of the case, involving allegations of staged encounters, underworld connections, and missing witnesses, underscores the significance of a thorough and fair judicial process.

The next hearing date is eagerly awaited, as it will likely determine the future course of the case and Pradeep Sharma’s legal fate. As the legal proceedings continue, the case remains a focal point in the ongoing debate about police encounters, justice, and accountability in India.

Case Details: Pradeep Rameshwar Sharma vs State of Maharashtra., Diary No. 13604-2024

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