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Apex court to monitor riot cases
- Gujarat warned against ‘eyewash’ appeal

New Delhi, Aug. 8: The Supreme Court today invoked a rarely used constitutional provision to intervene in the Best Bakery and nine other Gujarat riot-related cases and warned it would “monitor” the state’s appeal in the high court to ensure it was not an “eyewash”.

A bench of Chief Justice V.. Khare and Justices S.B. Sinha and Arun Kumar issued notices to Gujarat and the Centre asking them why retrial should not be ordered in the bakery case. The Centre and the state were given two weeks to file their replies.

The bench also tagged on the other riot cases — which the National Human Rights Commission wanted tried outside Gujarat — with the rights panel’s petition on the bakery case.

Asking for a copy of the appeal the state filed in Gujarat High Court yesterday against the bakery case acquittal, Khare said: “If it is an eyewashing one, so that the high court dismissed it, we will not allow it. We will monitor your appeal.”

The panel’s petition, the bench said, would be treated as a public interest litigation so that the apex court could “continue to monitor” the Gujarat riot cases and seek an answer from the Centre on the Justice Malimath Committee’s recommendations for protection of witnesses in criminal cases.

The bench ordered the Gujarat government to provide security to all victims involved in the riot cases mentioned in the NHRC petitions, including Zahira Habibullah Sheikh.

Zahira’s deposition before the rights panel that she was forced to lie in a trial court under threat of life had prompted today’s unprecedented judicial act of the apex court intervening in a criminal trial.

The bench invoked Article 142 of the Constitution which says: “The Supreme Court in the exercise of its jurisdiction may pass such decree or make such order as is necessary for doing complete justice in any cause or matter.”

The trial court hearing the bakery case had acquitted all 21 accused, prompting the rights panel to contend that the Godhra train-burning and eight other related cases would meet the same fate if trials were not held outside Gujarat.

At the outset, Khare, who was the presiding judge, asked NHRC’s senior counsel P.P. Rao why the apex court should intervene after the “new development” of the Gujarat government filing a high court appeal against the trial court’s acquittal order.

As Rao tried to argue that only the Supreme Court could intervene in such matters under Article 142, Khare called for the state counsel. “Is any one present for Gujarat'” he asked, looking at the empty bench of the opposition.

No sooner had he asked than advocate Hemintika Wahi rushed into the court room, saying she was the state counsel and the government had already filed an appeal in the high court.

“Then you file the memo of appeal with this court. We will examine it,” Khare said. The state was also directed to file all evidence recorded, records of the trial court proceedings and the judgment.

The bench specifically asked Wahi to furnish the grounds of the state’s appeal. “If we find that it was a mere eyewash, we will allow NHRC to intervene in the appeal before the high court,” the bench said.

The NHRC was given a week to file its response once the Centre’s and the state’s replies were in. The bench posted further hearings after three weeks.

Rao contended that “the Gujarat case has lowered the image of criminal justice delivery system in India in the eyes of the whole outside world”.

Zahira, the prime witness in the bakery case, moved a petition similar to the NHRC’s. The bench said it would be taken up in due course.

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