Agreeing with the findings of the Special Investigation Team appointed by it that there was no “larger conspiracy” behind the 2002 Gujarat riots, the Supreme Court on Friday dismissed the appeal filed by Zakia Jafri challenging the SIT’s clean chit to Narendra Modi, who was then the state’s chief minister, and others in cases related to the riots.
A bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and C T Ravikumar said “the SIT has not found any conspiracy, linking separate and disparate acts of arson and looting or outrageous claims made in sting operations or individual utterances/ publications of purported hate speech, to any singular larger conspiracy or planned event”.
The bench ruled: “The materials gathered during the investigation in no way link any ‘meeting of the minds’ in any of the nine cases investigated by the SIT or for that matter, other incidents alleged in the complaint or the protest petition. The riots across the state had taken place spontaneously, immediately after the Godhra train carnage.”
It said that “no material was discovered pointing towards any meeting of minds/ conspiracy in the higher echelons of the administration or (that) the political establishment conspired with other persons to cause such riots or (it) turned a Nelson’s eye when the riots had triggered and continued”.
The court also said the SIT probe has “fully exposed” the “falsity of claims” made by “disgruntled officials” of Gujarat “to create sensation by making revelations which were false” and said that “all those involved in such abuse of process, need to be in the dock”.
The court upheld the decision of the Ahmedabad Metropolitan Magistrate to accept “as it is” the final SIT report dated February 8, 2012, and reject the protest petition filed by Jafri. It said the appeal by Jafri against the October 5, 2017 Gujarat High Court order upholding the lower court’s decision was “devoid of merits”. Jafri’s husband Ehsan Jafri, a Congress MP, was killed during the riots.
In its ruling, the apex court said that “no fault can be found with the approach of the SIT in submitting the final report…which is backed by firm logic, expositing analytical mind and dealing with all aspects objectively for discarding the allegations regarding larger criminal conspiracy (at the highest level) for causing and precipitating mass violence across the state against the minority community during the relevant period”.
The SIT, it said, “has gone by the logic of falsity of the information or material and including the same remaining uncorroborated”.
“In that, the 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,” it said.
The bench ruled that “question of further investigation would have arisen only on the availability of new material/ information in connection with the allegation of larger conspiracy at the highest level, which is not forthcoming in this case”.
The court praised the SIT for doing its work “with sincerity, objectivity and dispassionately” and conveyed strong displeasure at Jafri’s arguments which, it said, “was bordering on undermining the integrity and sincerity of the members of the SIT” and “questioning the wisdom of this court”.
The court also pointed to a “coalesced effort of the disgruntled officials of the state of Gujarat along with others… to create sensation by making revelations which were false to their own knowledge. The falsity of their claims had been fully exposed by the SIT after a thorough investigation”.
It noted that “intriguingly, the present proceedings have been pursued for the last 16 years…to keep the pot boiling, obviously, for ulterior design…all those involved in such abuse of process, need to be in the dock and proceeded with in accordance with law”.
The bench said the “allegations regarding larger conspiracy at the highest level…is founded on the alleged utterances made by the then Chief Minister in an official meeting (on February 27, 2002 in Gandhinagar) while addressing the DGP, the then Chief Secretary and other senior officials of the state to allow to vent to the Hindu anger on the minority in the wake of Godhra incident”.
In her plea, the petitioner had relied on the statements of police officers Sanjiv Bhatt, who claimed to have attended the meeting, and R B Sreekumar, and former Minister Haren Pandya, but the SIT concluded “that the claim of concerned persons is false and figment of imagination”, the court said.
“The SIT after thorough investigation has recorded its opinion that neither Mr Sanjiv Bhatt nor Mr Haren Pandya was present in the stated meeting. Similarly, even Mr R B Sreekumar had no personal knowledge as he did not attend the said meeting. Besides, Mr R B Sreekumar was a disgruntled officer,” said the top court.
The apex court said that “we find force in the argument of the respondent-state that the testimony of Mr Sanjiv Bhatt, Mr Haren Pandya and also of Mr R B Sreekumar was only to sensationalise and politicize the matters in issue, although, replete with falsehood”.
It said: “On such false claim, the structure of larger criminal conspiracy at the highest level has been erected. The same stands collapsed like a house of cards, (in the) aftermath (of the) thorough investigation by the SIT.”
On charges of inaction by the state, the court pointed out that the SIT had collected “materials indicative of the amount of hard work and planning of the concerned state functionaries in their attempt to control the spontaneous evolving situation of mass violence across the state”.
It said that the state acted “despite the handicap of administration including the inadequate state police force required to be replenished with central forces/ Army, which were called without loss of time and the repeated appeals made by the then Chief Minister publicly to maintain peace”.
The judgment said “to make out a case of larger criminal conspiracy, it is essential to establish a link indicative of meeting of minds of the concerned persons for commission of the crime(s), committed during the relevant period across the state including the heart-rending episode unfolded at Godhra on 27.2.2002, in which large number of Kar-sevaks were burnt alive in train bogies”.
But, it said, “no such link is forthcoming, much less…unraveled and established in any of the nine cases”.
“Accepting the argument of the appellant would require us to question the wisdom of this Court and to hold that even the incident at Godhra unfolded on 27.2.2002 was also the outcome of alleged larger criminal conspiracy. Such a view would be preposterous,” said the bench.
The court said “there is no material forthcoming to indicate that there was failure on the part of intelligence to collect information and it was a deliberate act on the part of the state government authorities”.
Referring to the various steps taken by the administration, it said that “in light of such timely corrective measures…it would be beyond comprehension of any person of ordinary prudence to bear suspicion about the meeting of minds of named offenders and hatching of conspiracy by the State at the highest level, as alleged….”
The court also rejected contentions regarding the alleged communal mobilisation and stockpiling of weapons before the Godhra “carnage”, the post-mortem of bodies being conducted in the open in a railway yard and parading the bodies from Godhra to Ahmedabad as proof of larger conspiracy, terming them “pure conjectures and surmises” and “devoid of merits”.
The court said “there is no material worth the name to even create a suspicion… indicative of the meeting of the minds of all concerned at some level; and in particular, the bureaucrats, politicians, public prosecutors, VHP, RSS, Bajrang Dal or the members of the State political establishment — for hatching a larger criminal conspiracy at the highest level to cause and precipitate mass violence against the minority community…”