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Bakery retrial vetoed, acquittal stands

Ahmedabad, Dec. 26: Gujarat High Court today dismissed the state government’s amended appeal seeking retrial of the 21 absolved in the Best Bakery case and confirmed their acquittal by a lower court.

The division bench of Justices B.J. Sethna and J.R. Vora, however, did not specify its reasons for the rejection. This being the last day before the winter session, and since the day is practically over, “the reasons will follow later”, it said.

Gujarat had filed the amended appeal on September 29 after being chastised by the Supreme Court for filing an “eyewash of an appeal” earlier.

The plea had followed protests over the June 27 acquittal by the fast-track court in Vadodara of the 21 accused of charring 14 people at Best Bakery on March 1, 2002, during the post-Godhra communal riots.

The bench also rejected the government’s appeal seeking the court’s permission to produce the affidavits of four witnesses, including key witness Zahira Sheikh, and to record further evidence. The affidavits were part of a special leave petition filed by the Mumbai-based NGO, Citizens for Justice and Peace, which is sheltering Zahira.

The bench agreed with Sushil Kumar Jain, the counsel for the accused, that the affidavits by the four persons, who directly approached the apex court, could not be taken on record of the high court as these were never a part of the trial court’s record.

Jain also pointed out the “contradictions” in Zahira’s statement to the police and in her affidavit, and said the “identity” of the accused was a “lacuna” in the case. Later, he told reporters: “The dismissing of this appeal will have an effect on the legal history of India as the entire judicial system was on trial.”

Harish Salve, appointed an amicus curiae by the apex court to assist it with a related petition, said the “matter is not closed”.

A leading high court advocate, Girish Patel, said: “The Best Bakery chapter is closed for Gujarat.” The only option left, he added, is Article 136 of the Constitution that empowers the Supreme Court with special leave to appeal.

The government can thus ask the apex court for special leave to appeal against the high court judgment. Gujarat law minister Ashok Bhatt, however, said he had “nothing to say” on the government’s next move.

Special public prosecutor Nitin Amin was as cautious though he did not rule out the possibility of challenging the judgment.

“After we get the text of the judgment, the legal department of the state government will decide what is to be done. At this stage, it is too early to talk about our next step — whether we will appeal in the Supreme Court or not,’’ Amin said. The detailed judgment is awaited once the high court reopens on January 16, 2004, after the vacation.

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