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Second riot case shift

New Delhi, Aug. 6: Another stinging slap landed in Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s face today as the Supreme Court transferred trial in the Bilkis Bano gangrape to a special court in Mumbai.

This is the second time that the apex court is shifting trial in a case relating to the 2002 Godhra flare-up out of Gujarat. In April, it had moved the Best Bakery burnings to Maharashtra.

The order shifting the case to “a competent court in Mumbai” came on a petition by Bilkis Bano alleging that Gujarat police were “hand in glove with the accused” and the atmosphere in the state far too vitiated to ensure free and fair trial. Witnesses were routinely threatened, the petition said.

A pregnant Bilkis had been gangraped and her two-month-old daughter and 13 family members massacred by a mob in Dahod. The case was closed after no one was found guilty in the trial in Gujarat.

Although today’s order is likely to place a question mark on the competence of the Gujarat judiciary and reflect a lack of faith in it, the court said the transfer made no such statement. The trial was shifted out “in view of the nature of allegations” in Bilkis’ petition, it observed.

“This order should not be seen as a reflection on the competence of courts in Gujarat.”

However, the CBI — which was asked to probe the massacre after Bilkis approached the court — has been in favour of moving the trial out. The agency said its investigating officer was threatened and six of the 20 people it picked up were policemen accused of whisking away the bodies.

The chief justice of Bombay High Court has been asked to constitute a competent court to try the case. The Centre will appoint a public prosecutor to conduct the trial. All expenses will be borne by the Gujarat government.

The Supreme Court today came down hard in another riot case — the Naroda Patia massacre — and stayed trial after a batch of petitions sought that it, too, be moved out of Gujarat. The court issued notice to the state asking it to show cause why the trial should not be transferred.

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