SC remarks in Gujarat riot case verdict liable to be misused by govt authorities

A reference to ‘protagonists of quest for justice sitting in a comfortable environment in their air-conditioned offices’ is likely to be used by governments to belittle complainants of injustice

Supreme Court
Supreme Court

K Raveendran

The ground on which the conspiracy charge has been thrown out in the in the appeal filed by Zakia Jafri in the Supreme Court challenging the clean chit given by the SIT to Narendra Modi and 63 other state functionaries in the Gujarat riots case leaves no scope for ambiguity. However, some of the arguments used to arrive at the conclusion are liable to be conveniently interpreted by governments as condoning inaction.

Dismissing Zakia Jafri’s appeal, the Supreme Court observed that that conspiracy cannot be inferred on the basis of mere failure or inaction of the state administration.

The court held that "inaction or failure of some officials of one section of the State administration cannot be the basis to infer a pre-planned criminal conspiracy by the authorities of the state government or to term it as a State sponsored crime (violence) against the minority community".

The court refused to accept the petitioner’s plea that there was failure of the state administration and police machinery in taking appropriate action to control the rioters and that the intelligence inputs regarding communal build-up were ignored. It held that the inaction or lack of effective measures taken by the concerned officials per se does not imply criminal conspiracy on the part of the state authorities.

But a reference to ‘protagonists of quest for justice sitting in a comfortable environment in their air-conditioned offices’ is likely to be used by governments to belittle complainants of injustice in the ‘manner and style’ of ‘urban naxals’, a favourite term with the Modi establishment to deprecate opposing voices.

"The protagonists of quest for justice sitting in a comfortable environment in their air-conditioned office may succeed in connecting failures of the state administration at different levels during such horrendous situation, little knowing or even referring to the ground realities and the continual effort put in by the duty holders in controlling the spontaneous evolving situation unfolding aftermath mass violence across the state," the court said in reference to the rioting in the wake of the Godhra train massacre.

What is more damaging to the cause of ‘justice seekers’ is the court’s reference to Covid and the government response. The court said that collapsing of state administration in times of emergency is not an unknown phenomenon and cited the examples of governments with the best of the facilities crumbling under pressure during the pandemic.

But this wasn’t exactly the approach of the apex court while dealing with various issues related to Covid in the country, under which it took the government to task for its failures. People have not forgotten how the effective intervention by the Supreme Court saved the country from more trouble when the government decided to look away, probably taking cover under the argument that it was an unprecedented situation and the governments with the best facilities had crumbled.

The court had then refused to accept the enormity of the problem as an excuse for inaction, whether it was the issue of migrant workers and their long march back home or the massive effort that was needed to vaccinate India’s masses.

In fact, the court had set a deadline for the Centre and the states to ensure their ‘bounden duty’ to see that not even one person in the estimated 38 crore migrant workers goes hungry during the pandemic.

The court stated categorically that the government cannot abdicate its responsibility at such times and the strictures led to the launch of one of the most massive relief operations ever.

Similarly, it was the Supreme Court that made the government accountable for vaccinating the country’s entire vulnerable population for free after it took a stand that favoured the manufacturers of vaccine rather than the people. The court pinned the government down to explaining how it proposed to meet the target of vaccinating 900 million people before the year ended.

The order came even as the country had barely achieved inoculating 220 million doses to cover just about 4 percent of the population.

The SC forced the Modi government to throw out its plan to make the state governments pay and purchase the required doses on their own. The primary credit for the world’s biggest vaccination drive, therefore, must go to the Supreme Court and not the Modi government, as it is made out to be.

(IPA Service)

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