The Supreme Court has disposed of a petition filed by the NHRC 15 years ago seeking transfer of the 2002 Gujarat riot cases outside the state, apart from other directions, on the grounds of faulty investigations. The petition had led to the 2008 order directing the formation of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe nine major post-Godhra riot cases under the Supreme Court’s close supervision and monitoring.
The latest order, issued on July 23, was received by the special riot court hearing the last of the nine cases — the Naroda Gam case — two weeks ago. It said the apex court would no longer monitor the cases, and asked the SIT to take them to their logical end.
The order, which was accessed by The Indian Express, grants the special court time till October 16, 2018, to complete the Naroda Gam trial.
Disposing of the 109-2003 petition, it stated, “After scanning through all the orders which have been passed from time to time, we feel that the purpose of this petition stands served and no further orders are required.” It added that “if at any time interference of this court is required, either party would be permitted to file IA (Interlocutory Application)”. On Friday, the SIT will seek a clarification from the Supreme Court on whether it requires to send periodic progress reports as the Naroda Gam trial is still in progress and appeal petitions are pending in other riot cases.
SIT sources told The Indian Express that “the SC order stated that it would not monitor the progress of the cases and directed to wrap up the trial (of Naroda Gam) by October”. The apex court also directed the SIT to take all the cases to its logical end. After the riots, the Gujarat government faced charges of mishandling of cases. The NHRC, which was taking suo motu cognizance of the incidents, in an unprecedented step moved the Supreme Court through a criminal writ petition (109-2003) after all the accused in the Best Bakery murders of Vadodara were acquitted. One of its main pleas was to shift the cases outside Gujarat. The Best Bakery case was re-tried in Mumbai, concluding in sentencing of the accused.
On September 12, 2003, the Supreme Court for the first time summoned the then Gujarat chief secretary P K Laheri and DGP K Chakravarthi. The SIT to probe the nine riot cases was formed under the chairmanship of former CBI director R K Raghavan, who sought to be relieved from the SIT last year. He was appointed high commissioner to Cyprus. In its order of April 2017, the apex court placed the responsibility of filing the quarterly progress reports on the riot probe on former DIG and the remaining member of the SIT, A K Malhotra.
From 2003 to July 23, 2018, the apex court passed more than 80 orders. In the order of March 26, 2008 when the bench of Justices Arijit Pasayat, P Sathasivam and Aftab Alam directed the appointment of the SIT, the Supreme Court held that “communal harmony is the hallmark of a democracy. No religion teaches hatred. If in the name of religion, people are killed, that is essentially a slur and blot on the society governed by rule of law. The Constitution of India in its preamble refers to secularism. Religious fanatics really do not belong to any religion. They are no better than terrorists who kill innocent people for no rhyme or reason in a society which as noted above is governed by rule of law. These are cases where there is an element of communal disharmony, which is not to be countenanced.”
The Gujarat government then issued a notification for the SIT led by Raghavan. In the list of police officers were IPS Geetha Johri (retired DGP), Shivanand Jha (current DGP) and DGP (CID-Crime) Ashish Bhatia. Several NGOs, including Mumbai-based activist Teesta Setalvad’s, had joined the petition in the Supreme Court for the victims who objected to Johri and Jha in the SIT, as they were then under probe in a complaint filed by Zakia Jafri, wife of former Congress MP Ahsan Jafri who was killed in Gulberg Society.
In eight riot cases, more than 80 people were convicted, including former BJP minister Maya Kodnani, who was later acquitted by the Gujarat High Court.