Godhra riots probe panel report was astonishingly sycophantic: Former Gujarat top cop RB Sreekumar
Panel overlooked nine affidavits he had filed before it based on what he saw as ADGP (Intelligence) in 2002, RB Sreekumar says in second edition of his book ‘Gujarat Behind the Curtain’
In a scathing critique of the 2002 communal riots inquiry commission report, released by the Gujarat government in December 2019 five years after it was submitted, the state’s former top cop RB Sreekumar has said that it “unequivocally” and “meticulously” takes care “to refrain from probing and taking cognizance of any deviant action of omission and commission by the state administration, particularly those operating in the criminal justice system, who facilitated extensive mass violence and enabled brigands to perpetrate anti-minority crimes.”
The critique, which has been added as a separate chapter, “Sycophantic Servility of Judicial Commission” in the just-released second edition of his book “Gujarat Behind the Curtain”, point-by-point refers to how the commission, set up by then chief minister Narendra Modi to probe into the Godhra train burning on February 27, 2002, and the post-Godhra riots, overlooked as many as nine of his affidavits, which he had filed before it, all based on all that he saw as additional director general of police (ADGP) (intelligence) in 2002.
Perhaps the most vocal critic of the then Modi government who had seen first-hand the manner in which the police and civil administration functioned in 2002 under Modi, Sreekumar – whose promotion as DGP was restored post-retirement after he challenged departmental inquiry against him in the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) and the Gujarat High Court (HC) – says, the commission’s 2,724 page final report (FR) was released only after he filed a litigation in HC. The Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952 stipulates that the government should table the report within six months of its receipt.
Noting how his representations to the commission was “misrepresented”, Sreekumar says, in para 12 of volume 8 of the FR, page 25, it referred to an interactions with Ashok Narayan, Additional Chief Secretary (ACS), Home, in the period from April 9, 2002 to September 18, 2002 but overlooks his interaction with Narayan was on August 20, 2004, where the official had “confirmed” that judges and vakils were supporting Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) during the riots.
A record of Sreekumar’s interaction quotes Narayan as stating in his ninth affidavit: "Now I am telling you the environment at that time. All the vakeels on VHP side; all judges, many of the judges were also on VHP side, right; doctors also did not treat patients because they were Muslims. In that situation what can be done? Tell me. Bail applications neglected, what can we (Home Department) ... stay on ... What can we say? The entire society is like that. PP (public prosecutor) again… discussion held with Law Minister.”
According to Sreekumar, despite this, “the commission astonishingly did not find any omission on the part of the police and the administration in the maintenance of the rule of law throughout Gujarat State.” Not were any causative factors reported “for high intensity violence in 11 districts.”
And, despite the commission’s “fervour to eulogise the State administration”, says Sreekumar, it did not say why 11 out of 30 police districts remained “nearly peaceful without any murders” and “moderate violence reported was from eight districts”, including Surat City, where only seven murders were reported.
Referring how in its “zeal to bypass professional lapses of the State administration and police, the Commission made no efforts to probe into the lapses and blatant violations of procedural regulations”, Sreekumar says, the State Intelligence Bureau (SIB) and a few field officers proposed action against publishers and distributors of communally inciting material which were in violation” of various provisions of law.
Yet, while the commission did recommend that during the time of communal riots, “reasonable restriction should be placed upon the media in the matter of publication of reports about incidents”, it refused to indict anyone.
Further, says Sreekumar, while FR volume 9, para 209 and 209 (1 and 2), pages 109, 110 and 111, “recorded" that 54 dead bodies of the February 27, 2002 train fire were handed over to Dr Jaideep Patel, State VHP leader, by the taluka mamlatdar, Godhra, “as per instructions given by Jayanti Ravi, district magistrate, Godhra”, which was “in gross violation of Rule 223 of Gujarat Police Manual (GPM), Volume III”, the commission did not recommend any “penal action against all responsible for this serious default, as none of them had the authority to violate GPM provisions.”
In yet another omission, Sreekumar says, two State Cabinet ministers – IK Jadeja and Ashok Bhatt – visited the DGP office and Commissioner of Police (CP), Ahmedabad City Office, respectively and allegedly interfered in the police operations on the Bandh day on February 28, 2002. “Minister Jadeja had admitted that he remained present in the office of DGP K Chakravarthi for few hours (FR volume 8, para 32, page 44). This action of the ministers was in egregious violation of the Rules of Business framed by the State Governor and notification of allotment of portfolios by the Governor.”
Then, according to Sreekumar, the Chief Secretary is supposed to be the bridge between the administration and the political bureaucracy, as he alone attends Cabinet meetings. Yet, the commission “did not get affidavits from the concerned officers viz Swarankant Verma, IAS and G Subba Rao, IAS, acting chief secretary and chief secretary, nor were “summoned for cross-examination”. This was “in downright violation of government notifications regarding constitution of commission and its terms of reference...”
Referring to his ninth affidavit, where Ashok Narayan, IAS, ACS Home, admitted that “the Chief Minister not giving any direction or guidance on further action to be taken on intelligence reports” for helping riot victims – Narayan is quoted as saying, “the CM had described that his report dated April 24, 2002 as one which deserving to be put in waste paper basket” [FR volume 8, para 12, page 26]) – Sreekumar says, “The Commission did not check up with ... Home Department officials, CM and DGP, lest it might reveal information damaging to the government.”
Referring to the FR volume 9, para 221, page 137 quoting Sreekumar about “illegal instructions orally given by the Chief Minister to officials” in his third affidavit dated April 9, 2005, the topcop regrets the manner in which the it was rejected. “The Commission observed that ‘this allegation is made after some departmental action was initiated against him’ (RB Sreekumar).” He adds, this is “factually incorrect as the chargesheet for initiating departmental proceedings was served on me on September 6, 2005…”
“Similarly”, Sreekumar says, “The commission did not summon ACS Ashok Narayan to verify his revelations to me (audio recording of the conversation was available) that the Chief Minister did not give any direction on the follow-up action in response to my situation assessment intelligence reports.”
Also, says Sreekumar, in FR volume 9, para 222, page 138, even as referring to the “clandestine tutoring session” he had received from GC Murmu, Home Secretary, and Arvind Pandya, government pleader, the commission “refused to acknowledge that the very action of tutoring me which was organised by the Home Department was illegal as the commission was tasked to probe into the role and conduct of the Chief Minister-cum-Home Minister in the riots.”
He adds, “The action of the Home Secretary was in violation of the letter of spirit and thrust of the government notification on the constitution of the commission. The commission did not perceive any criminal liability of the Home Secretary and the government pleader in the illegal tutoring session.”
In fact, according to Sreekumar, the commission “falsely observed” (FR volume 9, para 222) that the conversations did not disclose that “there was any pressure or persuasions from those officers on Shri Sreekumar to tell something to the Commission, which was false”, adding, it was “height of sycophancy of the commission when it falsely observed that (FR para 222, page 138), “As stated by Shri Sreekumar, he was not threatened by them nor he was influenced in any manner to tell something to the Commission, which was not true”.
(This column was first published by Counter View. Views are personal)