The Supreme Court on Friday restored conviction and sentence imposed by the trial court on nine of the 12 accused in the March 2003 murder of former Gujarat minister Haren Pandya. Deciding appeals filed by CBI against the Gujarat High Court’s decision on August 29, 2011 to acquit them of murder charges, a bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Vineet Saran observed, “The CBI has investigated the case thoroughly and minutely, and conspiracy between (the) accused persons has been found established.”
Pandya, who was the Home minister in the then Narendra Modi government in Gujarat, was shot dead on March 26, 2003, while on morning walk near Law Garden in Ahmedabad. In 2007, a designated court hearing cases under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002, convicted the 12 people accused in the case and sentenced them to life imprisonment.
On appeal, the Gujarat High Court in 2011 acquitted them of murder charges and slammed the CBI for carrying out a “botched-up” investigation.
Haren Pandya murder: Supreme Court restores conviction and sentence imposed by trial court on 7 of 12 convicts. Dismisses plea by NGO CPIL for fresh probe saying no ground made out @IndianExpress
— Ananthakrishnan G (@axidentaljourno) July 5, 2019
On Friday, the bench of Justices Mishra and Saran stated, “There is voluminous evidence discussed in criminal appeals decided today…with respect to the complicity of the accused persons in the offence…it cannot be said that investigation was unfair, lopsided, botched up or misdirected in any manner whatsoever, as had been observed by the High Court in the judgment which we have set aside.”The bench ruled: “The observations made by the High Court were based on lopsided approach without consideration of the entire evidence on record and on the wholly incorrect appreciation of the evidence, which was clearly perverse.”
Those whose conviction for murder was restored are Md Asgar Ali, Kalim Ahmed, Anas Machiswala, Md Yunus Sareshwala, Rehan Puthawala, Md Riyaz (alias Goru), Md Parvez Sheikh, Parvez Khan Pathan, and Md Faruq. In the case of two other accused — Md Shafiuddin and Shahnawaz Gandhi — the court noted that no interference was called for, as they had already undergone the sentence posed by trial court.
The top court also upheld the acquittal of another accused — Md Sheikh — for all offences other than under IPC Section 174A (non-appearance before authorities in response to a proclamation).
The bench was also seized of a petition by an NGO — the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) — which sought a fresh court-monitored probe into the case, as “new pieces of information have come to light…”.
Dismissing the plea, the top court observed, “We have not found on merits any material or ground worthy to direct further investigation or re-investigation in the case.” It said the plea lacks bona fide and amounts to political vendetta.
The bench pulled up CPIL for filing the plea and said, “It is surprising that observations of the High Court have been heavily relied upon in spite of mentioning the fact that the appeal was pending. In all fairness, such petition ought not to have been filed by CPIL at the instance of accused; it is clearly misuse of (the) forum of PIL.”
“Only an application could have been preferred by the accused persons, or by the petitioner, or any other interested person in the criminal appeals”.
The court also said advocate Prashant Bhushan appearing for the NGO, when he is a member of its executive committee, was in violation of Rule 8 of the code of professional ethics framed by the Bar Council of India.The court, which imposed a cost of Rs 50,000 on the NGO, said, “We are not happy with the entire scenario. There cannot be any justification to appear in violation of Rule 8, on the ground that the rule is arbitrary or ultra vires. The rule is not so far declared to be illegal or ultra vires by the court. Rule 8 is binding on members of the Bar unless…amended or declared to be arbitrary or ultra vires…”