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Gujarat riots not pre-planned; disgruntled officials who made false claims with ulterior motive should be in the dock: Supreme Court

Author: Abhimanyu Hazarika
Publication: Barandbench.com
Date: June 24, 2022
URL:      https://www.barandbench.com/news/gujarat-riots-not-pre-planned-disgruntled-officials-who-keep-pot-boiling-should-be-in-dock-supreme-court?s=03

The Court accepted the arguments by the State that the testimonies of Sanjiv Bhatt, Haren Pandya and RB Sreekumar were only to sensationalise and politicise the matter.

There is not even a tittle of material to prove that the 2002 Gujarat Riots were pre-planned, the Supreme Court stated on Friday while dismissing a plea challenging the clean-chit given by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) to the then Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi in connection with the riots [Zakia Ahsan Jafri vs State of Gujarat].

A bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and CT Ravikumar noted that as per the material on record, it was unfathomable that any larger conspiracy had been hatched at the higher level as was alleged.

"Suffice it to observe that there is no tittle of material, much less tangible material to support the plea of the appellant that the Godhra incident unfolded on February 27, 2002 and the events which followed, was a pre-planned event owing to the criminal conspiracy hatched at the highest level in the State," the Court said.

The Court said that basis of the allegation regarding conspiracy was the claim by certain officials that they were present at a meeting headed by Modi where he allegedly said that Hindus must be allowed to vent their anger post the Godhra violence. However, that claim is false and collapses like a pack of cards, the Court stated.

"We find force in the argument of the respondent-State that the testimony of Mr. Sanjiv Bhatt, Mr. Haren Pandya and also of Mr. RB Sreekumar was only to sensationalize and politicize the matters in issue, although, replete with falsehood. For, persons not privy to the stated meeting, where utterances were allegedly made by the then Chief Minister, falsely claimed themselves to be eye-witnesses and after thorough investigation by the SIT, it has become clear that their claim of being present in the meeting was itself false to their knowledge. 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, aftermath thorough investigation by the SIT."

The Court said that there was a coalesced effort by the disgruntled officials of the State of Gujarat to create sensation by making revelations that were false to their own knowledge.

"At the end of the day, it appears to us that a coalesced effort of the disgruntled officials of the State of Gujarat along with others was 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," the judgment said.

Such officials need to be in the dock for "keeping pot boiling" with ulterior motive.

"Intriguingly, the present proceedings have been pursued for last 16 years including with the audacity to question the integrity of every functionary involved in the process of exposing the devious stratagem adopted (to borrow the submission of learned counsel for the SIT), to keep the pot boiling, obviously, for ulterior design. As a matter of fact, all those involved in such abuse of process, need to be in the dock and proceeded with in accordance with law," the Court stated.

The present plea before the Supreme Court was filed by the widow of late Congress MP Ehshan Jafri, who was killed in the infamous Gulbarg Society Massacre during the 2002 Gujarat riots.

The petition had challenged the Gujarat High Court’s decision of 2017. The High Court had upheld the decision of the Magistrate to accept the closure report filed by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) in the case and had, thus, dismissed the petition filed by Jafri challenging the report.

In the aftermath of the Gujarat riots, Zakia Jafri had filed a complaint before the then Director-General of Police of Gujarat in 2006, seeking registration of a First Information Report (FIR) under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including Section 302 (punishment for murder). The complaint was made against various bureaucrats and politicians, including Modi.

In 2008, the apex court appointed an SIT to submit a report on a number of trials in relation to the riots and subsequently also ordered the SIT to investigate the complaint filed by Jafri.

The SIT report gave a clean chit to Modi and in 2011, the SIT was directed by the Supreme Court to submit its closure report before the concerned Magistrate, and the petitioner was given the liberty to file her objections, if any, to the said report.

In 2013, after the petitioner was handed a copy of the same, she filed a petition opposing the closure report.

The Magistrate upheld the SIT’s closure report and dismissed the petition filed by Jafri. Aggrieved, the petitioner had approached the Gujarat High Court which in 2017, upheld the Magistrate’s decision and dismissed the petition filed by Jafri.

Jafri along with activist Teesta Setalvad then approached the Supreme Court challenging this decision to accept the SIT’s clean chit.

In its judgment, the Bench came down on submissions of the appellant.

On the appellant relying on 'extra-judicial' confessions in Tehelka tapes to say that a larger conspiracy cannot be directly proved, the Bench noted that the same was 'nothing short of red herring."

Relying on the Indian Evidence Act, the judgment said that such tapes can at best be used against the maker and not against others, the Court said.

"Emphasis has been placed on evidence such as State Intelligence Bureau messages. What has been conveniently glossed over is that, 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) ... No such link is forthcoming, much less had been unraveled and established in any of the nine (9) cases investigated by the same SIT under the directions of this Court," the Bench observed.

It dismissed the allegation of a criminal conspiracy to cause the riots on part of State officials.

"Forwarding of messages by the intelligence agencies including inaction or lack of effective measures taken by the concerned officials per se does not imply criminal conspiracy on the part of the State authorities ... 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 ... Conspiracy cannot be readily inferred merely on the basis of the inaction or failure of the State administration."

Moreover, any inaction or failure on part of Ahmedabad's fire services during the violence cannot be the basis to infer criminal conspiracy, much less any hatched at the highest level to cause mass violence across the State, the judges stated.

The Court similarly dismissed the speeches of former Vishwa Hindu Parishad chief Pravin Togadia relied upon by the appellants, observing that same cannot be said to have led to mass violence across the State against the minority community.

On the State government's efforts at rehabilitation and sending in central forces after the riots, the Bench in appreciation noted,

"In light of such timely corrective measures taken by the State Government in right earnest and repeated public assurances given by the then Chief Minister that guilty will be punished for their crime(s), and to maintain peace, 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, much less grave or strong suspicion as being the quintessence for sending the accused for trial for an offence of criminal conspiracy."

SIT has come out with flying colours unscathed.
Supreme Court

Appreciation was also drawn to "the indefatigable work done by the team of SIT officials in the challenging circumstances", noting that they had "come out with flying colours unscathed."

The Court also stressed the changing nature of the situation post the riots at the time.

"The protagonists of quest for justice sitting in a comfortable environment in their air-conditioned office may succeed in connecting failures of the State administration at different levels during such horrendous situation, little knowing or even referring to the ground realities and the continual effort put in by the duty holders in controlling the spontaneous evolving situation unfolding aftermath mass violence across the State," the judgment said.

The judgment stated that the Bench found force in the respondents' contention that the petitioners were trying "to keep in improvising their grievances and make new allegations including to involve new offenders as being party to the larger criminal conspiracy hatched at the highest level."

Accordingly, the plea was dismissed for being devoid of merits.
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