What the Supreme Court said earlier and now in Gujarat riots cases
Various benches of Supreme Court earlier passed strictures against Gujarat govt for acts of omission and commission with regard to communal violence in the state
The Supreme Court, in its judgement three days ago, while dismissing a plea by Zakia Jafri, the wife MP Ehsan Jafri who was killed during the 2002 Gujarat riots, against the Special Investigation Team clean chit to then Chief Minister Narendra Modi over allegations of conspiracy in the riots stated that these allegations were being pursued to “keep the pot boiling, obviously, for ulterior design” and that “all those involved in such abuse of process, need to be in the dock and proceeded with in accordance with law”.
The bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and CT Ravikumar said that “materials collected during the investigation do not give rise to strong or grave suspicion regarding hatching of larger criminal conspiracy at the highest level for causing mass violence across the State against the minority community and more so, indicating involvement of the named offenders and their meeting of minds at some level in that regard”.
Zakia Jafri’s petition had challenged the Gujarat High Court’s October 5, 2017 order rejecting her plea against the SIT decision. On December 9 last year, the apex court had reserved its verdict on the plea.
Except for Zakia Jafri’s petition, nobody had raised a finger against it for the probe conducted in the 2002 Gujarat riots, the SIT had said during the hearing in the top court.
Her counsel had earlier said her complaint of 2006 was that “there was a larger conspiracy where there was bureaucratic inaction, police complicity, hate speeches and unleashing of violence”.
On February 27, 2002, 59 people were killed when the S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express was burnt at Godhra, triggering riots in the state.
Zakia Jafri filed a petition in the apex court in 2018. The plea pointed out that after the SIT gave a clean chit in its closure report before a trial judge, Zakia Jafri had filed a protest petition which was dismissed by the magistrate without considering “substantiated merits”.
However, over the years, the Supreme Court itself had moved cases out of Gujarat to Maharashtra - Best Bakery and Bilkis Bano – to ensure fair and impartial investigation into the riots cases. The top court had even expunged remarks of the Gujarat High Court against activist Teesta Setalvad.
A bench of Justices Doraiswamy Raju and Arijit Pasayat, on April 12, 2004, while ordering retrial in the Vadodara Best Bakery case after 21 accused were acquitted, stated that, “Those who are responsible for protecting life and properties and ensuring that investigation is fair and proper seem to have shown no real anxiety. Large number of people had lost their lives. Whether the accused persons were really assailants or not could have been established by a fair and impartial investigation. The modern day ‘Neros’ were looking elsewhere when Best Bakery and innocent children and helpless women were burning, and were probably deliberating how the perpetrators of the crime can be saved or protected. Law and justice become flies in the hands of these ‘wanton boys’.”
The judges added, “One gets a feeling that the justice delivery system was being taken for a ride and literally allowed to be abused, misused and mutilated by subterfuge. The investigation appears to be perfunctory and anything but impartial without any definite object of finding out the truth and bringing to book those who were responsible for the crime.”
On September 19, 2003, when the then Gujarat Chief Secretary PK Laheri and DGP K Chakravarthi were summoned, the bench of Chief Justice of India VN Khare, Justices Brijesh Kumar and SB Sinha asked Chakravarthi what steps he took when he learnt that witnesses were turning hostile. Chakravarthi responded, “I did ask the Police Commissioner why they turned hostile. Answer is they appear to have been won over.”
On November 21, 2003, a bench of CJI VN Khare, Justices S B Sinha and AR Lakshmanan stayed trial in 10 major riot cases on petitions seeking an independent investigation into the cases besides shifting of trials outside Gujarat.
On August 17, 2004, the bench of Justices Ruma Pal, SB Sinha and SH Kapadia directed that a riot cell be formed under the DGP to reopen cases closed by local police stations, and file quarterly reports.
In its order, the bench said, “The NGOs which have been participating in this entire process, will be at liberty to draw the attention of the Range Inspector General to any particular case within the District of a particular Range Inspector General and the Range Inspector General will consider the same before deciding whether further/fresh investigation or what action, if any, needs to be taken in connection with the FIRs filed. The Range Inspector General shall see whether the FIRs already filed are defective/deficient or faulty in any manner.”
On March 26, 2008, the bench of Justices Arijit Pasayat, P Sathasivam and Aftab Alam said, “Communal harmony is the hallmark of a democracy. No religion teaches hatred. If in the name of religion, people are killed, that is essentially a slur and blot on the society governed by rule of law. The state of Gujarat has stated that it has no objection if further investigation is done so that peoples’ faith on the transparency of action taken by the state is fortified”.
The court asked for a report in three months on investigations into the cases of the Godhra train burning, the killings in Naroda Patiya, Naroda Gam and Gulberg Society in Ahmedabad, Sardarpura and Dipda Darwaja in Mehsana district, two cases in Ode of Anand district and the killing of British nationals in Prantij, Sabarkantha district.
The court had also asked the Gujarat government to issue a notification to appoint the SIT headed by RK Raghavan, retired Director of CBI.