Updated: November 26, 2021 12:13:12 pm
The Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT), which inquired into the 2002 post-Godhra riots in Gujarat, on Thursday termed as “absurd” the contention that burning of coach S-6 of Sabarmati Express train that led to the riots was “orchestrated” by Hindutva groups.
“The allegation is (that) even before the incident, there were arms pile-up before February 27. It boggles my mind. Say I am a radical Hindu member of VHP and I am keeping arms on February 25 without knowing the date of the train burning incident, that makes no sense…” senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the SIT, told a bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar.
“Or you are saying this train burning was also orchestrated? That can’t be (true), because the train was delayed by five hours and was only going to stop for two minutes,” he submitted. “They could not have known…It’s absurd. There is a limit to what is being said here.”
“Either they knew the train will be five hours late and the other side will attack and they will have the material to attack back…It’s wild,” he told the bench, also comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and C T Ravikumar.
The court is hearing an appeal by Zakia Jafri, wife of former Congress MP Ahsan Jafri who was killed in the riots, challenging appeal challenging the October 5, 2017 Gujarat High Court order upholding the Ahmedabad Metropolitan Magistrate Court’s decision to accept the SIT’s closure report, which gave a clean chit to then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi and 63 others in riots-related cases.
Rohatgi said Jafri had first filed her complaint in 2006. “By the time she had gone to HC in 2007, petitioner no. 2 Teesta Setalvad had joined. The HC said she (Setalvad) had no role and was not entitled to maintain any proceedings in this respect.”
He said SC’s direction to SIT to “look into” Jafri’s complaint was “clear and guarded”.
“(The) SC says because she may have additional material in respect of Gulbarg Society, look into it,” Rohatgi said, adding that “things”, however, had been “blown out of proportion” by the time it reached the stage of the protest petition (filed against the magistrate court accepting the closure report). “Complaint is 30-40 pages, protest is 1,200 pages, now records before court is 20,000 pages…. This was only supposed to be additional material”, he said. “..now I don’t know who is driving it. I think NGO is driving it now…It is now being developed in a different way only because of the addition of petitioner number 2 (Setalvad)”.
Rohatgi did not name the NGO he was referring to.
Rohatgi said the petition questions why the elections were advanced. “Can this be a matter of remit for a police inquiry? Even such things have been raised,” he told the court. “Everything is not an act of criminality, some maybe issues of dereliction of duty etc…. Elections were to be (held) in 2003, preponed to December 2002…. Preponing or postponing – how does it have anything to do with looking into additional material for Gulbarga Society…elections are a political gambit for people…”
He contended that the entire case of the petitioner revolves around three people — former police officers R B Sreekumar, Sanjiv Bhatt and Rahul Sharma — who say everyone is complicit. “Sreekumar is the man who maintained unauthorised registers, records conversations clandestinely as a police officer. He came to law and order in April 2002. Before that he was in armed force. He knew nothing. He had his own axe to grind…” Rohatgi said.
Rahul Sharma, Rohatgi submitted, claims he had a CD which first surfaced in 2008. “What was he doing all these years? No police officer can keep case property with himself…if it’s (a) case property, he should have deposited it in the `maal-khana’,” the senior counsel said. “Sanjiv Bhat is convicted for murder, for planting narcotics in the room of a lawyer in Gujarat…Sreekumar’s register is like a Magna Carta. It contains allegations against every senior officer.”
Rohatgi said the SIT was critical of the role of M K Tandon, the then Joint Commissioner of Police in charge of Gulberg Society, where the Jafri couple lived.
But Justice Khanwilkar pointed out that records show that all calls were coming to him and he is not the one making calls. “He was not in contact. Persons affected were calling him…” remarked Justice Khanwilkar.
Rohatgi said the court’s remarks have come late in the day.
He added that the SIT had examined the then CM, top police officers, top civil administration officials, arrested minister Mayaben kodnani, recommended action against Tandon. “All was done”.
The senior counsel said it is not that call details of no one was examined. It was examined wherever available, he pointed out.
The arguments remained inconclusive and will continue on December 1.
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