The creating of confusion to obscure truths is a well-worn strategy. The Supreme Court has decided that the Best Bakery massacre case and other cases associated with the Gujarat violence, listed by the national human rights commission, should not fall victim to such confusion. It will “monitor” the appeal placed before the Gujarat high court by the Gujarat government a day before the NHRC’s petition was due to be heard in the Supreme Court. The ground has been well laid for confusion. The NHRC has asked that trials for the Best Bakery case and nine others be held outside Gujarat, because intimidation of witnesses, as alleged by an eyewitness in the Best Bakery case, Ms Zahira Habibullah Sheikh, would allow all alleged culprits to go free. According to the NHRC and other rights bodies, without a retrial of the Best Bakery case outside Gujarat, there would be no possibility of justice. The fact that the Gujarat government quickly moved the high court against the acquittal of all 21 accused in the Best Bakery case has, instead of increasing the state government’s credibility, raised some eyebrows. Since the education minister of the state had already gone public regarding the Bharatiya Janata Party’s satisfaction with the judgment of the fast-track court on the case in which 14 people were burnt alive in a Vadodara bakery, the hasty appeal to the high court has cut little ice. The Supreme Court wishes to find out whether it is “eyewash”. In this context, the state law minister’s insistence that the government is really absolutely in tune with the NHRC — it has already challenged the judgment of the lower court — smacks more of equivocation and smugness than sincerity.
The Supreme Court has been careful not to invite charges of activism. It has cited the rarely-used Article 142 of the Constitution, by which its decision is vindicated for the sake of “doing complete justice in any cause or matter”. By issuing notices to the state and the Centre asking why there should not be a retrial of the Best Bakery case, it has left little scope for manoeuvring. It has also referred to the Malimath committee’s recommendations regarding the protection of witnesses in criminal cases. Although the Supreme Court is acting within its constitutional rights, this is still not a desirable state of affairs. That it should be compelled to take on a “monitoring” role suggests a failure in the administration so pervasive that it is, perhaps, distorting the route of justice. What is most frightening is that this failure may be a manifestation of bad faith on the part of those who run governments.