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2002 riots: High Court pulls up Modi govt for ‘inaction’

Plea * Court orders relief for damaged religious structures

Written by Express News Service | Ahmedabad |
February 9, 2012 3:09:45 am

In by far the most stinging remarks against the Narendra Modi government in the 2002 communal riots,the Gujarat High Court today severely criticised its intelligence failure in anticipating the communal violence after the Godhra train burning incident,and “inaction” in preventing the “anarchy” that continued “unabated” for days.

Hearing a plea on damage to religious structures during the violence,the court also held the state government reponsible for either compensating for the damage or reimbursing the cost of repairs.

Passing strictures against the state government,the court said: “Failure on the part of the police intelligence to gather such ‘general reaction’ (over the Godhra train burning) in time and to take appropriate timely action definitely comes within the expression ‘negligence of the State’ even if we for the sake of argument accept the defence of the State that the cause of riot was the ‘general reaction from the incident of Sabarmati Express’. Similarly,the fact that the riot continued for several days itself suggests lack of appropriate action or adequate action,if not inaction,on the part of the State.”

Given the “inadequate endeavour” on its part,“resulting in destruction of more than 500 places of religious worship belonging only to the one religious community”,the high court said,it was the duty of the government to restore the same,“irrespective of the religion”.

A division bench of the high court comprising Acting Chief Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya and Justice J B Pardiwala passed the order while acting on a PIL moved by the Islamic Relief Committee Gujarat.

The state government may now have to compensate for damage sustained by nearly 600 places of worship,including the shrine of Urdu poet Wali Gujarati in Shahibaug area.

The Islamic Relief Committee mainly relied on reports of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC),which stated that it was the duty of the state government to protect places of worship. The NHRC had also recommended that Gujarat get these religious structures repaired expeditiously.

The petitioner had also contended that the state government had already compensated for the damage caused to residential and business buildings in the riots.

The Modi government had opposed the petition contending that the religious structures damaged during the riots didn’t fall under the “general reaction” to the Godhra train burning category,and that the state had no policy to provide compensation to such places for the damage sustained by them.

The court called this “preposterous”. “The above policy rather would give a wrong signal to citizens that for the protection of religious places… they should take up arms in their own hands… The above policy will also encourage religious bigots to destroy religious and other places of worship of the economically weaker sections… for the purpose of establishing their superiority,” the bench said.

The court asked the authorities concerned to file a claim regarding the damaged structures before the respective district courts. The state government has been allowed to recover the compensated amount from those convicted for the damage to the structures.

Hailing the HC judgment,Dr Shakeel Ahmed of the Islamic Relief Committee said that it had proved their faith in the judiciary. “The judgment has provided the state government a golden opportunity to initiate a reconciliation process and to heal the wounds (of 2002 riots).”

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