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Gujarat prosecutor replaced

New Delhi, Aug. 16: The Supreme Court today named P.R. Vakil the public prosecutor for the Best Bakery trial, replacing Gujarat appointee Atul Mehta.

Manjula Rao has been named Vakil’s associate for the trial that will be held before a special court in Mumbai.

A division bench of Justices Arijit Passayat and H.K. Sema made the appointments on an application by Zaheera Sheikh, a key witness to the Best Bakery massacre, who preferred Vakil and Rao.

With this order, the Gujarat government’s role in the trial comes to an end. The court directed the Gujarat government to notify these appointments before the next hearing in the Mumbai court.

The court also directed the Gujarat government to publish in two local dailies its order regarding the issuance of notice against the accused. The state was directed to file an affidavit in four weeks detailing what steps it has taken against those who allegedly intimidated witnesses.

At the hearing today, the judges gave the Gujarat government a chance to sort out the “problem” of appointing a public prosecutor. But when state counsel Hemantika Wahi could not give a “satisfactory” answer, the court said it would appoint a public prosecutor from the list of four advocates agreed on by the victims and witnesses.

Former Union law minister and senior counsel Ram Jethmalani, who is appearing for Zaheera, told the court that there was “an ego clash” between Gujarat and Maharashtra over the appointment of the public prosecutor. He said this could be sorted out by asking the Centre to appoint a person.

The court on April 12 transferred the trial to Maharashtra on a petition by Zaheera. It said that a special trial court in Mumbai would proceed with the case. The case was transferred after several witnesses said they were being threatened and coerced to turn hostile.

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