Narendra Modi’s name dropped by Gujarat court in suit seeking damages for deaths in 2002 riots

Three suits were filed in 2004 by a few British citizens seeking Rs 20 crores as damages for the death of their three relatives who were killed by a mob on National Highway 8 on February 28, 2002

Prime Minister Narendra Modi 
Prime Minister Narendra Modi
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NH Web Desk

A civil court in Gujarat on Saturday struck off the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the first defendant in a civil suit seeking damages for the killing of three British citizens during the 2002 riots, legal news website LiveLaw.in has reported.

Principal Civil Judge of Prantij in Sabarkantha district allowed the application filed by lawyer S S Shah on behalf of Modi to strike off his name, after noting that he was neither a "necessary or proper party" in the case.

Three suits were filed in 2004 by a few British citizens in the local court against Modi, then minister of State for Home Gordhan Zadaphia and 12 others, seeking Rs 20 crores as damages for the death of their three relatives - Saeed Dawood, Shakeel Dawood and Mohammed Aswat - who were killed by a mob on National Highway 8 on February 28, 2002 while they were returning from Rajasthan.

The court said that the allegations in the plaint to the effect that Modi (then the Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2002) was liable for the riots were "general, non-specific and vague".

"There is not a single averment showing presence of defendant No.1 (Modi) at the scene of offence at the relevant time or his direct or indirect involvement in the alleged act or any specific role from which reasonable ground for malice or intentional acts or omissions can be found, entitling the plaintiff to claim any legal right or relief against defendant No.1 in his personal or official capacity in the suit," observed Sureshkumar Kaludan Gadhavi, the Principal Civil Judge in the order.

The court said that the averments in the plaint were "made cleverly to connect" Modi to the riots and to seek compensation from him. The court termed the allegations against Modi "reckless, without any basis" and noted that the plaintiffs have not brought on record the outcome of the criminal trial with respect to the killings and whether Modi was made an accused in that criminal case.

While acknowledging that the plaintiff, being the dominus litis (master of the suit), has the right to choose the defendants, the court said that there must exist a legal right against such defendant.

"The question that arises is, whether in the absence of any specific intentional act/omission or malice or connection, a person who merely held an office of the State be made liable for each and every act/omission of the officers of the State? The plaintiff ought to have shown reasonable grounds along with proposed evidence before arraying anyone as defendant," the court said.

The plaintiffs had contended that Modi, being the Chief Minister of Gujarat at the time of riots, was "constitutionally, statutorily and personally liable for being in complete command of the State machinery".

They had alleged that the state administration ignored the alert from the IB regarding the movement of kar sevaks and that Modi, along with senior cabinet colleagues, allowed the bodies of kar sevaks killed in the Godhra carnage to be taken to Ahmedabad, against the advice of local administration. It was further alleged that the Chief Minister did not oppose the call of 'bandh' by VHP and deliberately did not act against newspapers fanning communal passions. It was thus the plaintiffs' argument that the actions and omissions of the Chief Minister led to the increasing of violence against the Muslim community.

The court, after observing that there was no substantive material to link the Narendra Modi in his personal or official capacity with the incident, invoked the powers under Order 1, Rule 10 (2) of the Code of Civil Procedure to strike off his name.

Lawyers targeted, state the plaintiffs

The plaintiffs had raised the plea of forum non-conveniens (seeking trial before another appropriate forum) on the ground that their lawyers were being targeted and that they were finding it difficult to secure the services of other lawyers.

One of the plaintiffs, Imran Dawood, had therefore directly submitted an affidavit raising objections to the striking off application.

It was stated that the officers of their lawyers - Senior Advocates Indira Jaising and Anand Grover- were raided by the CBI last year and that the services of their local lawyer Anwar Malek were no longer available.

"The action (raid) for all intents and purposes is a coordinated strategy especially given the content of the special civil suit and the timing of the action against our lawyers and the timing of the application to remove defendant No.1 from the special civil suit," said the statement of objection filed by the plaintiffs.

The court observed that no substantial progress has taken place in the suit filed in 2004 and that the plea of forum non-conveniens was to stall the proceedings.

The plaintiffs are deliberately dragging the suit, the court said.

"I am of the view that striking out name of defendant No.1 would not make any adverse effect on the claim of the plaintiff. A bare reading of the plaint makes it further evident that bald allegations are made against defendant No.1 and none of the averments indicates malice on the part of defendant No.1, which resulted into the incident in question," the court said in conclusion.

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