UNDERLINING THE strictures it made 11 years ago over his conduct in the 2002 Best Bakery case, the Supreme Court Friday ordered the removal of a district government pleader appointed by the Gujarat government.
A bench of Justice V Gopala Gowda and Justice Uday U Lalit upheld the Gujarat High Court order and observed, “We cannot disregard the observations made by this court…a public prosecutor is not only a lawyer for the government but has a far more important role in the dispensation of justice.”
As a public prosecutor, R N Pandya had conducted the Best Bakery trial in the 2002 Gujarat riots in which 14 people were burnt alive in the aftermath of the Godhra riots. The trial court had acquitted all 21 accused with the Gujarat High Court upholding the order. However, the Supreme Court ordered a re-trial in 2004 after noting that there was “ample evidence on record, glaringly demonstrating subversion of justice” due to “dishonest and faulty investigation”.
In its order, the top court slammed Pandya for having “acted more as a defence counsel than one whose duty was to present the truth before the court” and held it was “apparent and patent” that his conduct was not bonafide.
By a notification in May 2015, the Gujarat government, however, appointed Pandya as the District Government Pleader-cum-Public Prosecutor of Vadodara. Acting on a batch of PILs, the high court found it fit to remove him but the state government challenged it in the apex court. The petitions were filed by Vadodara-based activists who termed Pandya’s appointment “political”.
Appearing for Gujarat, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi defended the appointment, saying strictures made in one case cannot dent Pandya’s suitability and eligibility and his appointment was made according to the statutory rules and procedure.
“You cannot disqualify a person forever only because one court has made some adverse remarks…there are times when adverse remarks are made also against lower courts judges. His appointment was made duly by the District Magistrate and the Principal Sessions Judge,” Rohatgi said.
At this, the bench asked him whether the District Magistrate and the Principal Sessions Judge were in the know of the strictures against Pandya by the apex court. It agreed with the high court that a proper consultation would require furnishing all relevant facts about a candidate being considered for such a job.
On Rohatgi’s argument that public prosecutor was not a public office, the bench retorted that it is an office with a lot of responsibility and that is why it is of utmost importance to assess suitability of a candidate before appointment.
“We cannot accept an argument that it does not matter how a public prosecutor is appointed. Had that been the case, this court did not have to appoint special prosecutors in the Coal (blocks allocations scam) cases and 2G (spectrum allocation scam) cases,” added the bench.
Despite the scathing remarks, Pandya had been appointed public prosecutor twice between March 2005 and March 2008, and again in May 2015 for two years by the state government.