New Delhi, Feb 12 (PTI) The Supreme Court Tuesday put several searching questions to an NGO which has sought re-probe into the murder of Gujarat Minister Haren Pandya, ranging from the delay in filing the plea to whether a PIL can be based on newspaper reports that too in a criminal case already heard by it.

A bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra and Vineet Saran also reserved its verdict on the plea filed by the ‘Centre for Public Interest Litigation’ (CPIL) seeking court-monitored fresh investigation into the Pandya murder case.

Pandya was a minister of state for home in the then Narendra Modi-led state government in Gujarat. He was shot dead on March 26, 2003 in Ahmedabad near Law Garden during morning walk.

The bench also said there should be a panel of independent neutral lawyers to examine the PILs which have political colour.

“Why you are coming to the apex court under Article 32 by filing PIL 16-17 years after the killing,” the bench asked.

It followed up the query by adding as to why the NGO did not reveal in the plea that the apex court was hearing the appeal of the CBI against the acquittal of the accused by the Gujarat High Court.

“Mr (Prashant) Bhushan, we are aware of the facts of the case. Have you disclosed the fact in your petition that we are hearing the appeal in the case. The appeal against the high court order was being heard by this court since November (last year) “Is it not the duty of the CPIL to mention that the appeal is being heard by the Supreme Court,” the bench said.

The bench observed that the NGO should have filed an application seeking intervention in the pending appeal.

“We are not averse to considering any material and everything should have been filed in the criminal appeal. In all fairness you (Bhushan) should have intervened in that appeal,” the bench said.

Senior advocate Shanti Bhsuhan, appearing for CPIL, said that Azam Khan, who is a state witness, has told a court recently during the hearing of the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case that the killing of Pandya was part a larger conspiracy and it needed fresh probe.

He also referred to the interview of the earlier Investigating officer (IO) of the Pandya murder case to one journalist Rana Ayub and said, “He had hinted that there was political conspiracy”.

“What is the evidentiary value of the newspaper reports. You are filing the PILs based on newspaper reports. Suo motu case is different. Can you file a PIL based on news paper report,” the bench asked.

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan said that there were number of judgements which say that the courts can take note of the PILs based on such reports.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the CBI, said that filing of such PILs is the example of abuse of “pious” PIL jurisdiction.

A dreaded criminal (Khan) made some comments in an unconnected case and this is sought to be used in a PIL with some ulterior motive, the law officer said.

The NGO in its plea has said that re-investigation was needed into the case as some new facts have surfaced after the trial.

The apex court had on January 31 reserved its verdict in the appeal by CBI against Gujarat High Court’s acquittal of all the accused.

The petition said that there was a need for the fresh probe in the case as some “startling information” has recently come to light which needs to be looked into.

“New pieces of information that have come to light regarding the possibility of IPS officers including D G Vanzara being involved in the conspiracy to kill Pandya clearly show that the involvement of the senior functionaries of the police as well as possible complicity of political figures,” the petition claimed.

“The investigation has clearly been ‘botched’ to benefit powerful figures in the administration,” it said.

Referring to a recent testimony of a witness in Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case, the plea claimed that witness has revealed that during his deposition Sohrabuddin had told him that Pandya was murdered as a part of a contract killing for which the contract was given by Vanzara.

“He also reveals that Sohrabuddin’s associate Tulsiram Prajapati along with two others had murdered Pandya as part of that contract. In his deposition he mentions that he had already given this information to CBI in 2010,” the plea claimed.

The NGO has made Ministry of Home Affairs and CBI as parties in the case.

It has sought production of the statement of Vanzara to the CBI and an “inquiry into the circumstances in which an identity sketch of the assassin drawn in 2003 that matches Tulsiram Prajapati more than the accused put on trial and the nature of investigation done”.

The plea also sought an inquiry against the officers who conducted the earlier investigation and hold the errant officials accountable for the “botched up” probe.

A special PoTA (Prevention of Terrorist Activities) court had in 2007 convicted all the 12 accused in the case who were awarded life imprisonment.

However, on August 29, 2011, the Gujarat High Court had slammed CBI for the probe which it said was “washed up” and “blinkered”, and acquitted all the accused from the charge of murdering Pandya.

CBI has moved the apex court challenging the acquittal in 2012.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.