Slamming the “brazen high-handedness of the accused… the menace of witnesses turning hostile” and acknowledging that it had “lost confidence in the present presiding officer”, the Gujarat High Court Thursday ordered fresh trial in the murder of RTI activist Amit Jethva in which former BJP MP from Junagadh, Dinu Bogha Solanki, is a key accused. Justice J B Pardiwala directed that the case be transferred to a new judge for day-to-day trial — a special CBI judge had concluded the trial and an order was awaited. Alleging threats to witnesses and underlining that 105 of the 195 witnesses had turned hostile, Amit Jethva’s father Bhikhabhai approached the High Court, seeking fresh trial.
Jethva was murdered on July 20, 2010 outside the Gujarat High Court. Initially, the case was investigated by the Ahmedabad Detection of Crime Branch which chargesheeted six persons — Shiva Solanki, nephew of Dinu Solanki, Shailesh Pandya, Bahadursinh Vadher, Panchan G Desai, Sanjay Chauhan and Udaji Thakore.
Dinu Solanki was given a clean chit by the Crime Branch and Bhikhabhai moved the High Court which ordered a CBI probe into the role of Solanki. The CBI chargesheeted Solanki, saying he was the main conspirator. The CBI alleged that Solanki got Jethva killed since he was uncovering illegal mining activities, including in the Gir forests. In his order Thursday, Justice Pardiwala said: “It is the brazen high-handedness of the accused persons which warrants fresh trial… I have reached the conclusion, without any hesitation, that retrial is the only solution to prevent miscarriage of justice. If ultimately retrial is to be ordered, the same should be conducted by any other presiding officer because this court has lost confidence in the present presiding officer.”
He refrained from making observations against CBI judge Dinesh L Patel, in whose court the trial concluded, saying, “My observation would have only brought a bad name to this institution. For me, the image and prestige of this institution and the judiciary as a whole is supreme. It is said that the life of law is justice and it is for the judge to breathe life into law. Men of character inspired by high ideals are needed to infuse life and spirit in the skeleton of law. Let the High Court on its administrative side look into the matter.” The court rejected the arguments of the accused that retrial of a case before pronouncement of judgment is not maintainable and also that the petitioner has an opportunity to appeal in the High Court in case of acquittal.
In the order, Justice Pardiwala said: “Criminal appeals, be it one of conviction or acquittal, takes years before the same is disposed of finally. The passage of time itself would prove detrimental to the interest of justice.” Whatever may the result of the retrial, he said, the “court should not shut its eyes and raise hands in helplessness saying what can be done. Witnesses should also be made to realise that they can’t take things lightly… (they) owe a great responsibility when they are appearing before the court to depose in a trial where the persons are charged with the serious offence of murder. If such will be attitude of the courts, the judiciary will be reduced to mere laughing stock.”
“Time is ripe for the courts to take some positive action. Sections 195 and 340 of CrPC could hardly be termed as effective measures to combat the menace of witnesses turning hostile.” “When material eyewitness, one after the other, start resiling from their statements made before police, this must obviously excite suspicion in the mind of the trial judge to probe further and question the witness (even if the prosecutor doesn’t do so),” Justice Pardiwala said, noting that “the need of the hour is robust judging”.