The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Riots trial plea at SC door

New Delhi, July 20: The Supreme Court will have to act quickly on long-pending petitions seeking the handing over of investigations in the post-Godhra riot cases to the CBI, said a leading lawyer.

Although fast-track courts have begun work in Gujarat, the apex court can still intervene to ensure that the cases are heard outside the state and justice is done.

Several non-government organisations and concerned citizens filed petitions about eight months ago asking for investigations in the riot cases to be handed over to the CBI, saying the Gujarat administration had proved during the 2002 carnage that it could not protect the lives and property of minorities.

Congress Rajya Sabha MP, a lawyer, Kapil Sibal said it was, therefore, no surprise that the petitioners did not expect the administration to be impartial. The recent acquittal of 21 people accused of killing 14 at the Best Bakery in Vadodara during last year’s riots has only confirmed their fears, he added.

The accused were acquitted after witness upon witness in the case turned hostile allegedly under political pressure to keep quiet in court.

“The Supreme Court is the best forum to ensure that justice is done in Gujarat,” said Sibal.

The petitions have been placed before a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Rajinder Babu, but he has not yet taken them up.

Prashant Bhushan, who is coordinating the petitioners’ efforts, said the petitions were to have come up for hearing in May before the apex court took a summer break. The petitioners are hoping Justice Babu will take up the pleas soon.

“The fodder scam investigations were handed over to the CBI because it was felt that Rabri Devi’s government would be partial to Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Laloo Prasad Yadav,” Bhushan said.

“That was just a financial scandal. But in Gujarat, where people have been killed and burnt in the most savage way imaginable with police refusing to lift a finger, we have the same police conducting investigations. We want the Supreme Court to ask for the cases to be tried outside Gujarat,” Bhushan said.

Sibal pointed out three essential ingredients for a fair trial. They are: “impartial investigations by police — a force which will not bend to political pressure from those in power, a thoroughly fair public prosecutor; and an impartial judge.”

The veteran lawyer says it is not fair to blame the judge in such cases because they have to give a verdict based on the facts presented to them by the investigating team. A well-presented case is essential for ensuring a correct judgment.

Asked if was too late for the Supreme Court to intervene in Gujarat as the fast-track courts have begun work, Bhushan said it could intervene even now and ensure that there was no further miscarriage of justice. It was just a question of whether the court would uphold the rights of its citizens, he said.

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