New Delhi, Oct. 17: The Supreme Court today directed the Gujarat government to respond to a suggestion that most riot cases be re-investigated.
A three-judge bench of Chief Justice V.. Khare and Justices S.B. Sinha and A.R. Lakshmanan, which resumed hearings in the case, asked the government to furnish details of FIRs, investigation reports and prosecution proceedings.
The direction came on a set of six suggestions by Harish Salve, who has been appointed amicus curiae by the apex court.
Salve had said the Gujarat riot cases could be classified into three categories:
Those relating to the Best Bakery case
Those pertaining to other significant riot cases
Issues relating to deficiencies in the criminal justice system, including the absence of any significant provisions with regard to victims’ rights and protection of witnesses.
When Salve said there had been no plea for re-investigating offences or further questioning of hostile witnesses in the bakery case, the court sought details from the Gujarat government.
Details were also sought in other riot cases. The Supreme Court directed that the status report and other details be filed in sealed covers within three weeks and fixed November 7 for further hearings.
The court has sought details, among other cases, on the Godhra carnage case, the Gulbarg Society case, the Naroda- Patia riots, the Sadarpura riots in Mehsana district, the Kidiad massacre and the Pandharwada village massacre.
The apex court converted a writ petition by the National Human Rights Commission into a public interest litigation. Other writs, including those by Citizens for Justice and Peace, Supreme Court lawyer Umed Singh Gulia and some riot victims, have been clubbed with the rights panel petition.
The court took on record an affidavit filed by advocate Aparna Bhatt on behalf of Citizens for Justice and Peace. The affidavit said the Gujarat government did not even file appeals in some cases — like the ones in Naroda-Patia and Sadarpura — where the trial court had acquitted almost all accused in October last year.
The affidavit alleged that the Narendra Modi-led government had amended the appeal in the Best Bakery case, and in other cases, either no appeal had been filed or no amendment made to a “wishy washy” appeal.
The Supreme Court has asked Salve to keep it posted on developments in the bakery case, adding that it would monitor other cases. Gujarat High Court is slated to begin hearing on an appeal challenging acquittal of all 21 accused in the bakery case on December 1.
Senior counsel K.T.S. Tulsi, appearing for the accused in the bakery case, said the media was conducting a trial and the apex court’s monitoring of the case prejudiced the rights of the accused.
Chief Justice Khare said the apex court was not commenting on the individual merits of the case so that the trial courts or high court were not influenced by it.
The Supreme Court said it would decide on the plea of the rights panel and other petitioners to transfer trials outside Gujarat and hand over investigations to an independent body like the CBI. It did not stay trial proceedings in any case.
Counsel for the Gujarat government, P.C. Mishra, former chief justice of Calcutta High Court, said the media was putting “words into the mouth” of the judges. At this, Kharea said he “did not find anything that has been put in my mouth”.
The Supreme Court also said the “difference of opinion between (the) chairman of the national commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and (the) National Human Rights Commission on the Best Bakery case is an internal matter”.
This observation followed the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes commission’s argument that its chairman, Bizay Sonkar Sastry, had no knowledge of any meeting in which the rights panel had decided to appeal to the apex court. This despite Sastry’s being an ex-officio member of the rights panel.
Sastry had accused the panel chairman Justice (retired) A.S. Anand of acting unilaterally in filing an appeal seeking the transfer of riot cases outside Gujarat.