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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Justice Nanavati, head of panels that probed 1984 and 2002 riots, dead

Justice GT Nanavati (retired) had also headed the commission probing the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

Written by Sohini Ghosh | Ahmedabad |
Updated: December 19, 2021 4:02:20 am
Justice Nanavati dead, Justice Nanavati passes away Justice GT Nanavati, Nanavati commission, Nanavati commission report Gujarat riots, Nanavati commission report 1984 sikh riots, indian expressJustice Nanavati’s commission, appointed to probe the Gujarat riots, had given a clean chit to now Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his council of ministers. (Express photo)

Justice Girish T Nanavati, the retired Supreme Court judge who headed the inquiry commissions into the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and the 2002 Gujarat riots, passed away at his home in Ahmedabad on Saturday. He was 87.

Maulik Nanavati, his younger son who is a Gujarat High Court lawyer, said Nanavati had been suffering from lung fibrosis and died following a heart attack. “His system was getting weaker due to age and illness,” Maulik said.

In his inquiry report in the 2002 riots, submitted in two parts — one in 2008 on the Sabarmati Express fire in which 59 people, mostly kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya, were killed; and another in 2014 on the riots that followed the incident, which was made public in 2019 — Justice Nanavati gave a clean chit to then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, and his council of ministers.

Terming Justice Nanavati as “one of the finest judges” and a “great human being”, with a “quick grasp of the law”, Advocate General of Gujarat Kamal Trivedi said, “He was a man with a lot of warmth, not only for his family but each and everyone, particularly the larger fraternity of lawyers. He was very straightforward.”

Senior Gujarat High Court advocate Yatin Oza said Nanavati “had no bias or favoritism”. “There was nothing which could influence him, and even under the most difficult situations, he kept his balance.”

One of the toughest episodes of Nanavati’s life was investigating the Gujarat riots. He was appointed to head the inquiry commission in 2002.

Trivedi said he “rendered a great service” in the probe. “The Nanavati Commission went on for a very long time because, after 2001, the state of Gujarat saw a rollercoaster ride, and what was right, what was wrong, was not known to many people… His report threw light on the functioning of the police department, approach of the state government as well as the responsibility of people at large.”

When appointed to head the 2002 probe, Justice Nanavati was already leading a one-man commission into the 1984 riots. He was picked in 2000 to investigate the anti-Sikh violence, three months after he retired from the Supreme Court, by the NDA government headed by A B Vajpayee, and submitted his report in 2005.

Comparisons were made between the two probes, particularly the fact that while in the 1984 investigation, Justice Nanavati examined two former prime ministers Narasimha Rao and I K Gujral, apart from several former Congress ministers, he did not summon Modi in the 2002 probe. The terms of reference of the Nanavati Commission had been expanded in 2004 to include examination of the role of the CM and his Council of Ministers.

Asked why the commission had not examined Modi, Nanavati told The Indian Express in 2014, after submitting his final report, that he did not find enough “justification” to summon anybody.

The commission concluded that there was no conspiracy in the post-Godhra riots. “The anger, together with hatred and resentment towards Muslims, developed as a result of past events (that) drove those sections of Hindus to attack Muslims and their properties. They do not appear to have acted in that manner because of any inducement or instigation by others or because of any assurance of belief that police or the government will not take any action against them for their violent acts. The mobs were defiant. They were prepared to defy law and the policemen. They were out to punish the Muslims for what happened to Hindus at Godhra on the previous day,” the commission said.

In the Sikh riot probe, Justice Nanavati clearly linked the attacks on Sikhs to the assassination of then PM Indira Gandhi. However, he cleared her successor and son Rajiv Gandhi, saying, “There is absolutely no evidence suggesting that Shri Rajiv Gandhi or any other high ranking Congress(I) leader had suggested or organized attacks on Sikhs. Whatever acts were done, were done by the local Congress(I) leaders and workers, and they appear to have done so for their personal political reasons. They do not appear to have done so purely for personal reasons.”

Justice Nanavati’s father was a practising lawyer at Jambusar, Bharuch, and he did his schooling in the Gujarat before moving to Bombay for graduation and then law studies. He enrolled as an advocate at the Bombay High Court in 1958. He was appointed to the Gujarat High Court in July 1979, transferred to the Orissa High Court in 1993 where he became Chief Justice in January 1994, and later that year transferred as CJ of the Karnataka High Court. Justice Nanavati was appointed judge of the Supreme Court in March 1995, and retired in 2000.

In his short stint of five-odd months as the Karnataka Chief Justice, Justice Nanavati left an “indelible mark”, Karnataka Advocate General Prabhuling Navadgi said. He recalled Nanavati as “a strict disciplinarian” who “never tolerated a lawyer who had not come fully prepared”. “Young lawyers trembled to enter his courtroom.”

Apart from the 1984 and 2002 riot probes, Justice Nanavati headed an inquiry commission into regularisation of unauthorised colonies/ constructions in the NCT of Delhi in 2005. He was nominated by the Centre as a nominee to the Permanent Court of Arbitration, and continued dealing with arbitration matters from all over India post retirement.

In August this year, he resigned from a three-member tribunal on grounds of health, in an arbitration matter concerning Arcelor Mittal Nippon Steel and Essar Bulk Terminal.

Maulik said that in his last days, “He was trying to detach himself from the legal system, involving himself in philanthropic work.”

Apart from Maulik, Justice Nanavati is survived by his wife and another advocate son, Dhaval.

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