The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Govt silent on trial stay

Ahmedabad, Nov. 21: The Supreme Court’s stay on trial of riot cases in Gujarat has stunned both the state government and the VHP into silence while justifying the victims’ stand.

Government spokesman Saurabh Patel and his VHP counterpart Kaushik Mehta both said, “we have nothing to say”.

State law minister Ashok Bhatt parroted the official line: “We are yet to study the court order.”

Social activist Sheba George said the order vindicated the virtual consensus among the victims and the NGOs helping them that the cases should be shifted out of Gujarat as the apex court has asked the state to respond to a transfer proposal.

“Here, we do not find any sense of remorse. No one is bothered about justice — justice that is being denied. What does one expect here when victims see every day the killers of their dear ones roaming around' So it is better if the trial is conducted outside Gujarat,” said George, who has been providing legal help to the victims of Naroda Patia.

Survivors of the riots, such as Best Bakery massacre witness Zahira Sheikh, and relatives of those who died in the Godhra carnage, such as 82-year-old Girish Rawal, had sought transfer of the cases out of Gujarat.

Minority community leader Safi Memon said the order was a positive step by the country’s judicial system, which he alleged had crumbled in Gujarat. Memon believes the apex court directive will not only help restore communal harmony but also allow the government to salvage its tarnished image before it is too late.

The Congress dubbed the order a slap in the face of the government. The stay amounts to a lack of faith in the Gujarat judiciary, state party vice-president Hasmukh Patel said. The order, he added, showed that the apex court believes riot victims cannot get justice in Gujarat under the current dispensation.

The order did not surprise high court advocate Mukul Sinha, who said he was expecting it.

Sinha, who has been helping riot victims, said the government had not changed its attitude despite the apex court’s warning. Like the Congress, he termed the order a slap in the face of chief minister Narendra Modi.

Human rights activist Girish Patel considered the order a “logical culmination of what was happening in the Supreme Court’’ which is monitoring the riot cases. According to Girish, the apex court had been getting fresh evidence that showed the ground situation in Gujarat had not changed and the riot accused were being protected and witnesses threatened.

While Hasmukh hailed the order as a “happy development” from the victims’ point of view, social activist Hanif Lakdawala said it was a “sad day” for the state. The order spoke volumes about the state of affairs in Gujarat, he said.

That the apex court had to intervene showed its lack of faith in both the state police and judiciary, Lakdawala said.

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