In a first, the Supreme Court said today that attempts were made through “politics and activism” to influence the proceedings on Gujarat riots in the top court. The court rejected sacked IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt’s plea to investigate BJP president Amit Shah’s role for allegedly trying to scuttle probe into cases of encounter killings.
Underlining that Bhatt “was not acting bonafide and was catering to the interest elsewhere”, a bench of Chief Justice H L Dattu and Justice Arun Mishra dismissed Bhatt’s petition for constituting a special investigation team (SIT) and making Shah and others parties to his petition.
Besides, the bench also lifted a stay on his trial in two cases and asked him to face prosecution. “…petitioner (Bhatt) was in active touch with leaders of rival political party, NGOs, their lawyers tried to play media card, was being tutored by NGOs.
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He had probably forgotten that he was a senior IPS officer. In case he was fairly stating a fact after nine years, he ought not to have entered into the aforesaid exercise and kept away from all politics and activism of creating pressure, even upon 3-judge bench of this court, amicus and many others,” the bench said.
Bhatt had moved the apex court in 2011, alleging he was being targeted by the Gujarat government for disclosing certain facts about the alleged role and complicity of then chief minister Narendra Modi, Shah and others in the 2002 post-Godhra riots. He claimed he was present in a meeting on February 27, 2002 when Modi allegedly said Hindus should be allowed to vent their anger.
To fix him, he alleged, two FIRs were lodged against him. In the first FIR, a policeman accused Bhatt of coercing him to submit a false affidavit before a commission inquiring into the riot. The second FIR was lodged by Tushar Mehta, then Gujarat additional advocate general and now an additional solicitor general, alleging Bhatt hacked his email account.
Initially, Bhatt sought a CBI probe into his cases for a fair investigation but he later asked for a SIT, contending CBI could be under political pressure now that the BJP was in power. He also urged the bench to take note of Mehta’s emails and order a broad-based investigation.
But the bench also looked into Bhatt’s emails put on record by the Gujarat government and said that they were “self-explanatory” that “he has not come to the court with clean hands” and his conduct was neither desirable nor above board.
“He had exchanged e-mails with rival political party leaders and was being tutored by the lawyer of NGO and its activist. Ghost questions and answers were also prepared as to what he was required to speak before Justice Nanavati Commission. He has used the media card, has even sent the e-mails to influence the judicial proceedings of a 3-judge bench of this court and has tried to influence the amicus curiae,” the bench said.
It cited certain emails that Bhatt had exchanged with a woman activist of a Gujarat-based NGO, an activist of Narmada Bachao Andolan, leaders of rival political party and journalists, seeking “to exert pressure by the groups and opinion-makers in Delhi” on the top court.
The court questioned what prevented Bhatt from approaching it earlier if he was really present at the February 2002 meeting. It noted Bhatt filed a petition in this regard only in 2011 and did not state this fact even when he recorded his statement before the Commission in 2009.
“When he made such sensational disclosures after nine years, what prevented him from not disclosing the e-mails and keeping quiet is inexplicable conduct. In the statement before Justice Nanavati Commission also, he has failed to state about the e-mails. When he has sent the e-mails to the effect that his potential was not fully exploited by rival political party, what prevented him from stating about the e-mails before the Commission also is not understandable. The overall conduct of the petitioner does not inspire confidence,” it said.
Perusing the emails of Mehta, the court held held he has been unnecessarily dragged into this controversy by Bhatt and the accusations of his having a criminal nexus with the lawyers of Shah, who was an accused in encounter killing cases, was unfounded.
About Mehta seeking suggestions from Gurumurthy Swaminathan, co-convener of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, for drafting certain affidavits, the bench held this would not undermine the administration of justice in any way and is not indicative of criminal conspiracy.
It said there is no requirement of setting up a SIT or order a CBI probe into cases registered against Bhatt and that he must face prosecution like other citizens.
Incidentally, since 2003, the top court has been proactively adjudging issues concerning proper investigation and fair trial in the riot cases, based on petitions filed by the National Human Rights Commission, social activists such as Teesta Setalvad and some NGOs.
Not only it appointed lawyers like Harish Salve, Prashant Bhushan and Raju Ramachandran as amicus curiae in the case to make sure the probe is on the right track but the court also appointed a special investigation team (SIT) in 2008 to work independently under the mandate of the apex court.
In the last 12 years, the Supreme Court has issued slew of orders, including handing over probe to CBI in high-profile cases, transferring key cases to outside Gujarat, re-investigation into cases previously closed, re-trials, protection of witnesses etc. The SIT had in 2012 given a clean chit to Modi in the riots cases, saying it found no evidence against him.