| Zahira: Hope floats
New Delhi, Sept. 1: In the first such instance ever, the Supreme Court has admitted an individual’s — Zahira Sheikh — plea for retrial in the Best Bakery carnage case.
Zahira is the key witness to the March 1, 2002, killings in which 14 people were burnt in front of the Vadodara bakery owned by her father. All accused were freed after most witnesses, including Zahira herself, turned hostile in the case.
The court today directed that a special leave petition from Zahira — filed on her behalf and others by an NGO, Citizens for Justice and Peace — seeking retrial outside the state be tagged on to the National Human Rights Commission plea that comes up for hearing on September 12.
The rights panel, too, had been outraged at the acquittals and sought a retrial outside Gujarat. Zahira has alleged in her petition that “crucial evidence was shut out through threats and intimidation” made on behalf of the accused. She has named the State of Gujarat, the accused in the trial court, Vadodara police and the Union government as respondents.
The apex court, in an order dated August 8, had issued a notice to the Gujarat government and others on a special leave petition from the NHRC. The reply from the state government is awaited.
Zahira has pleaded that the CBI or any independent agency carry out fresh investigations in the case under the constant monitoring of the apex court.
She has also sought initiation of prosecution against the then Vadodara police commissioner and officers of Panigate police station for acting and abetting arson, looting and killings and other related offences in the Best Bakery carnage.
Contending that the trial court judgment was based on evidence given under threat, intimidation and fear, Zahira said it was bad in law and liable to be set aside. She said at all levels there had been a “miscarriage of justice”.
Her petition added that investigations had been defective and witnesses not protected. The public prosecutor had glossed over his job and the trial judge mechanically acquitted the accused. The trial had been conducted in a hostile atmosphere.
Zahira said that in the eyes of the victims, it was not possible for them to get justice anywhere in Gujarat.