The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Zahira case: Rights panel can intervene

New Delhi, July 13: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) can both “intervene” and “appeal” against the acquittal of the 21 accused in the Best Bakery case by a trial court in Gujarat.

According to former Delhi High Court chief justice Rajindar Sachar, the NHRC has the right to appeal against the order of the special trial court either in Gujarat High Court or in the Supreme Court.

Even a social organisation like the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) or any NGO could appeal on behalf of the victims. “In fact, the PUCL is planning to appeal against the trial court order,” Sachar, who often appears as the PUCL counsel, said.

“As far as our locus standi is concerned, we are the major non-government human rights organisation that collected enormous amounts of data and details. We will first try to appear on behalf of the victims like Zahira. If it is not possible, as she might still feel threatened to appear, we will appeal as PUCL itself,” Sachar said.

The retired chief justice added that “new tools are required to tackle new situations and in the event of the prosecution not going on appeal and the government machinery being lethargic, non-government human rights bodies like ours have every right under the Public Law principles to appeal in the case”.

Senior Supreme Court counsel Rajeev Dhavan agreed. “A genuine social organisation’s appeal in public interest has to be taken seriously by a court of law,” he said.

Under section 12 of the Protection of Human Rights Act, the NHRC is empowered to intervene in the case “of course with the permission of the same trial court”, he added. Section 12 gives NHRC the right to “intervene in any proceeding involving any allegation of violation of human rights pending before a court with the approval of such court”.

So, Dhavan said, the NHRC has to first “intervene in the matter before the same trial court” which had acquitted the accused in the case.

In fact, the NHRC does come on appeal in several cases to the Supreme Court and the most visible example is the one relating to the Mumbai riots that broke out after the serial blasts.

Under Section 12 (a), the NHRC can “inquire, suo motu or on a petition presented to it by a victim or any person on his behalf”. As Zahira has stated before the NHRC that she turned hostile in court as she apprehended a threat to her life and wanted reopening of the case, the NHRC can act on this statement, sources at the commission said.

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