New Delhi, Nov. 21: Patience wearing thin, the Supreme Court today stayed trial in all riot cases in Gujarat and asked the Modi ministry to respond to a proposal to shift major ones to courts in Maharashtra or any other state.
“We thought they (Gujarat government) are by now wiser… but if this is the state of affairs, then we will transfer all the cases,” the court said after amicus curiae Harish Salve listed instance after instance of miscarried justice in the state.
This is the harshest indictment of Gujarat since the Supreme Court declared a loss of faith in its government three months ago and asked it to quit if it could not “prosecute the guilty and protect the weak”.
The order comes on a three-point suggestion by Salve to check “gross miscarriage of justice” in Gujarat courts and follows close on the heels of the transfer of Jayalalithaa’s disproportionate asset cases to Karnataka.
Salve, appointed by the court to assist with the riot cases, suggested in writing that:
All investigations be held by a special team of Gujarat police to be selected by a designated agency and headed by an officer of inspector-general rank with “impeccable” track record
Area-wise local committees be constituted, comprising a retired high court judge, eminent lawyers and citizens, to select public prosecutors
Major cases like the Godhra train burning and the killings at Best Bakery, Gulbarg Society, Sardarpura and Naroda Patia be transferred to some other state.
The bench of Chief Justice V.. Khare and Justices S.B. Sinha and A.R. Lakshmanan then issued notices to the state government, asking it to file a status report in two weeks.
Citing an earlier case, Salve said the “same state officials” would feel secure and function better if they were under the protection of the apex court. This would also rid them of the “pressure from local politics”.
Such a team would not report to the state or to any apex agency but would report “directly to the Supreme Court”, he said.
The court also gave a tongue-lashing to additional solicitor general Mukul Rohtagi, who represents Gujarat, over a riot accused whose bail was not opposed even after his name was found in an FIR. Earlier, he had been given bail on grounds that his name was not mentioned.
“The public prosecutor, a VHP district president, did not even oppose bail,” Salve said.
At this, Rohtagi said the high court had granted the bail and the state could not be blamed for it.
Then the chief justice asked: “How many times should we remind you of your duty... why did you then not file a special leave petition before the Supreme Court... high courts err on several occasions... does it mean the state won’t do its duty'”
Rohtagi reiterated that the bail was granted by the high court.
“That’s what we are saying... why you, the state, did not appeal against it... the state of affairs is worsening…,” Chief Justice Khare replied.
Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi declined comment. “I am not aware of the Supreme Court order. The Gujarat government would reply to the court’s queries after studying it (the order) properly.”