Ahmedabad, Dec. 27: A mass grave allegedly containing skeletal remains of 21 victims of the Gujarat riots has been dug up along a riverbank in Lunawada village.
The bodies of 21 of 26 people massacred at Pandharwada in March 2002 are believed to have been buried along the river Panam in Panchmahal district, 175 km from here. Five bodies were reported missing after the riots.
The grave was exhumed this morning by Rais Khan, an activist of Teesta Setalvad’s NGO Citizens for Justice and Peace, without permission from authorities. Some relatives of the victims were with him.
Police said the exhumed remains were not a “new find” as claimed by the NGO. The bodies were buried only after post-mortem and those responsible for the massacre were identified and arrested, Vadodara range IG Rakesh Asthna said.
“The bodies buried in the grave near Panam river are those belonging to the victims of the Pandharwada massacre and each has been legally accounted for during investigation,” DGP A.K. Bhargava said.
Why then were relatives of the victims not informed and the bodies handed over' “I don’t know if the relatives were informed. It’s a three-year-old issue,” he said.
The DGP said the police were contemplating legal action against the NGO. “The grave cannot be dug up without permission of the magistrate. We are registering an offence case against those who have dug out the skeletons.”
DNA tests would be conducted on the remains to avoid any controversy in future, he said.
Gulambhai Sheikh, the brother of a massacre victim, asked why the police had handed the bodies to Lunawada civic authorities for burial and not to the relatives.
Besides, why were proper Islamic procedures not followed, he asked.
“If due procedure was followed as the police are claiming, why were the bodies buried along a river and not in a proper graveyard'”
Asthna alleged there was “some motive and angle to their (the NGO’s) decision to exhume the skeletons”.
But Azam Khan, an activist working with riot victims, said the Pandharwada 21 had been buried “to derail investigations”. The three accused against whom a chargesheet was filed have been given bail by the high court.
“The relatives had dug the spot and found numerous skeletons and clothes which they suspect belong to their relatives who were killed during the riots,” Rais Khan said.
Setalvad said she would file a writ petition in Gujarat High Court tomorrow seeking a CBI probe.