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Zaheera changes plea; now wants to be sent to Vadodara

Written by: Staff

Mumbai, Mar 16: Changing her plea yet again, Zaheera Sheikh, who has been sentenced to one-year imprisonment by the Supreme Court for repeatedly changing her testemony as the prime witness in Best Bakery case, today prayed to the sessions court here to hand her over to Vadodara police as she feels ''unsafe'' in the custody of Mumbai police.

On March 13, Zaheera had pleaded before the same court that she wanted to undergo the sentence in Maharashtra, instead of Gujarat.

Meanwhile, extending her judicial custody till March 20, Additional Sessions Judge Abhay Thipsay today directed the Bhoiwada police lock-up officer to provide her proper facilities, including good food, and allow her to perform 'namaz'.

While sentencing nine accused to life imprisonment and acquitting eight other on February 24 after the conclusion of the retrial of the case on the direction of the apex court, Mr Thipsay had issued perjury notice for March 20 to Zaheera and her family members for changing their statements during the course of retrial.

The judge reminded Nasibullah, her brother, of the perjury notice today as he happened to accompany Zaheera to the court. When asked if he was aware of the notice, Nasibullah acknowledged it, adding he would be present in the court on Monday.

As the matter came up for hearing, Zaheera went to the 'witness box' and said she wanted to go to Gujarat and be handed over to Vadodara police. She claimed she has been kept hungry for the last three days, and alleged the Mumbai police would starve her to death also claimed police were not allowing her to offer namaz she also charged a woman constable at Bhoiwada police station with maltreating her during custody.

The woman constable , when called to the box to reply to the allegation, however, said Zaheera wanted special treatment and non-veg food which, the police could not provide.

After hearing her complaint, Mr Thipsay told Zaheera that sending her to Vadodara was not in his hands and the court has sought Supreme Court's clarification in the matter. Only after that it will be decided as to where she should be kept, he added.

On March 13, the court had extended till today the judicial custody of Zaheera, pending clarification from the apex court on how the one year sentence for perjury has to be executed and also on her earlier plea to undergo the sentence in Maharashtra instead of Gujarat.

Since the apex court order is not explicit as to how the sentence has to be executed, it is appropriate to seek its directions, Mr Thipsay had said, and added it would not be proper to hand her over to Gujarat police since Zaheera had requested that she should not be handed over to Gujarat police and instead allowed to undergo the sentence in Maharashtra.

Zaheera had surrendered before the court on March 10, two days after the Supreme Court sentenced her to a year's simple imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs 50,000 for her flip-flops as a witness in the case.

In his brief order today, Mr Thipsay said even the Gujarat government has not received any direction from Supreme Court as to where Zaheera's sentence is to be executed.

He also explained how Zaheera landed in trouble, and said she has been sentenced because she had submitted a false affidavit in Supreme Court stating that she had never approached the apex court for re-trial and transfer of the case from Gujarat to Maharashtra.

The judge told Zaheera that the apex court has punished her because it was proved that she had made a false statement before the SC's fact-fiding committee headed by Registrar General of the apex court.

The Supreme Court, in April, 2004, while ordering retrial of the Best Bakery case outside Gujarat so that witnesses could depose without any fear, had quashed the Vadodara court's order acquitting all the 21 accused in the case. Seventeeen of these accused were re-arrested and brought to Mumbai for retrial, while the remaining four, still untraceable, had been declared absconders.


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