New Delhi, July 31: The National Human Rights Commission today petitioned the Supreme Court to transfer key riot cases out of Gujarat and set aside a fast track court’s verdict that acquitted all the accused in the Best Bakery massacre.
The acquittals had raised a big judicial question mark after main witness Zahira Sheikh, whose father was among the 14 people burnt alive by a mob, publicly said she had been forced to lie in court.
The rights panel’s petition requested that cases relating to the Godhra train burnings, Chamanpura Gulbarg society, where former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri was killed, and Naroda Patia and Sadarpura — two of the worst affected areas — be shifted for “free and fair trial”.
The commission said it was “deeply concerned about the damage to the credibility of the criminal justice delivery system and negation of human rights of victims” of the riots. It sought a directive that the cases be probed by an “independent agency”.
The BJP frowned on the commission’s extraordinary move, but the RSS and the VHP reacted with outrage. While the RSS said the rights commission “should not cross its mandate”, VHP leader Praveen Togadia said the move to take riot cases outside the state carried “the seeds of partition in its womb”.
BJP chief M. Venkaiah Naidu said there has been no such precedent. “It will set a precedent.”
The commission based its plea on the report of a team it had sent to Vadodara to record statements of a few survivors of the bakery massacre. This was after Zahira’s accusation at a recent news conference in Mumbai that BJP MLA Madhu Srivastava had threatened her.
“Madhu Srivastava asked me to lie in court. There were threats all the time. Those who called repeatedly told us that my mother, too, would be killed if I didn’t go back on my statement to the police…” Zahira had said at the conference.
Her refusal to identify the 21 accused led to their acquittal, but the verdict of the fast track court was slammed by rights commission chairman A.S. Anand as a “miscarriage of justice”. Zahira later appealed to the commission for help to reopen the case.
In its petition, the rights commission contended that “fair trial is a constitutional imperative” and “violation of a right to fair trial is a violation of a fundamental right under our Constitution” and also “violative of internationally recognised human rights”. The commission said “whenever a criminal goes unpunished, it is the society at large which suffers because the victims become demoralised and criminals are encouraged”.
The petition said it was “the duty of the court to use all its powers to unearth the truth and render justice so that criminals are punished”.
The commission said it was “imperative in the interests of justice” that the apex court lays down “guidelines and directions in relation to protection of witnesses and victims of crime in criminal trials”.
“This is essential in order to enhance the efficacy of the criminal justice delivery system,” it added. If the apex court upholds the petition, it will create legal history in the country.
The Gujarat government refused to comment on the plea.
“We will react after we study the documents. At the moment, we have no idea,” spokesman I.K. Jadeja said.