| Jafri’s widow outside the Supreme Court. (PTI)
New Delhi, Oct. 9: The Supreme Court today appointed former solicitor-general Harish Salve amicus curiae to assist it in monitoring trials in Gujarat riot cases, particularly the one involving the Best Bakery massacre.
Chief Justice V.. Khare and Justices S.B. Sinha and A.R. Lakshmanan, who took a serious view of the Narendra Modi regime’s lacklustre handling of the cases, also ordered that the state government could not appoint public prosecutors on its own.
The bench said lawyers of impeccable quality should be appointed in consultation with attorney-general Soli Sorabjee and asked him to “vet” all the appointments of public prosecutors in riot cases.
The judges directed the state government to furnish the names of the special prosecutors to Sorabjee but warned that persons who had earlier conducted trial of riot cases should not be appointed again as public prosecutors. “Do not associate old public prosecutors who prosecuted the cases before the trial court,” it said.
Additional solicitor-general Mukul Rohtagi, who appeared for the Gujarat government, agreed to all the proposals.
The apex court asked the amicus curiae to “go through all petitions and paper books” filed in the court in riot cases and give his recommendations by the next hearing. October 17 has been fixed for further hearings.
The court treated a petition by the National Human Rights Commission as a public interest litigation so that various recommendations on ways to prevent witnesses from turning hostile could be examined and guidelines set for the future.
In the Best Bakery case, most of the witnesses had turned hostile. It resulted in the acquittal of all the 21 accused of burning alive 14 people at the Vadodara bakery in March last year. The witnesses later complained that they were forced to turn hostile.
Rohtagi told the court that the state government has already amended its appeal before Gujarat High Court against the trial court order acquitting the accused.
The court clubbed two other petitions, one filed by danseuse Mallika Sarabhai and the other by S. Jafri, the widow of former Congress MP Ehsaan Jafri, who was burnt alive by a mob on February 28.
Sarabhai contended that compensation given to riot victims was inadequate and less than that given to the victims of the Uphaar fire tragedy in Delhi and the Bhopal gas tragedy. The bench asked the state government to respond to the complaint within six weeks and posted the matter for further hearing after eight weeks.
The judges, however, told senior counsel Indira Jaisingh, who appeared for Sarabhai, that she was going too far when she said the two-member Nanavati commission probing the riots should be expanded to include members from the minority community. “This is too much,” the bench said and asked Jaisingh to limit herself to legal arguments.
Jaisingh also appeared for Ehsaan Jafri’s widow, who was present in court today. She said her petition demanded a CBI probe rather than an investigation by state police. She said Jafri had repeatedly called the police control room when a mob surrounded his bungalow, but no help arrived.
The counsel alleged that the current Gujarat law minister, Ashok Bhat, was “sitting” in the police control room and “virtually” monitoring the riots which included the one at Gulbarg Society, where Jafri was killed.
She contended that “influential persons” like Bhat could escape being mentioned in any FIR by the police and sought a directive from the court for the state government to furnish details of FIRs filed, charges mentioned in them and accused who have been arraigned.
The court asked the Gujarat government to furnish these details.