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Little justice for riot victims

New Delhi, March 21: Few have been punished for the massacre of Muslims in the Bombay riots of 1992-93 although most of those behind the March 1993 blasts, seen as a retaliation, have been convicted.

The Justice B.N. Srikrishna commission of inquiry had detailed the role of the December-January rioters, including high-profile politicians and police officers. Had the panel’s recommendations been carried out, several heavyweights might have found themselves in jail.

A few victims and lawyers are still trying to get the guilty punished. A petition to implement the Srikrishna report was filed in the Supreme Court in 1998 soon after the then BJP-Shiv Sena government rejected the document. Like the report, the petition lies in limbo. It was last heard in 2008.

Asked if he expected justice in future, Justice Srikrishna said: “What can I comment? It is a political thing. That’s why the Supreme Court has stopped the appointment of sitting judges for commission of inquiries as considerable time of a sitting judge is used up in conducting such inquiries, and nothing comes out of them. In my personal view, the Commission of Inquiry Act requires more teeth like the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).”

The Srikrishna report, which named several BJP and Sena leaders and should have been ammunition for the “secular” Congress and NCP that have ruled Maharashtra since 1999, lies untouched by the state government.

“When the subject of anti-minority violence comes up, people promptly mention 1984 (the Sikh killings) and 2002 (Gujarat). Sadly, Mumbai has faded from popular consciousness,” rued Mumbai journalist Jyoti Punwani.

Among the few steps the Congress-NCP government has taken — that, too, under the Supreme Court’s prodding — is the formation of a special task force (STF) to examine all the offences the Srikrishna report listed.

The Congress-NCP dispensation also set up two special magistrates’ courts to try the cases but these courts were wound up in six months after hearing 83 cases and handing down convictions in six. The convicts included Sena leader Madhukar Sarpotdar, but he got bail and did not have to serve his sentence till his death a few years ago.

A handful of the small fry found themselves locked up in jail, mostly as undertrials.

Earlier, when the BJP-Sena won the 1995 polls, some of the riot cases, mostly implicating their workers, were going on under the provisions of the now-repealed anti-terror law Tada. Most were acquitted after witnesses turned hostile.