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Are these hands clean? Yes, says SC

Supreme Court upholds clean chit to Narendra Modi in Gujarat riots

Bench headed by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar says ‘no tittle’ of material to prove plot at the top to cause mass violence against Muslims
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was Gujarat chief minister when the Gulberg Society massacre took place, greets incumbent CM Bhupendra Patel (not in this frame) at Parliament House on Friday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was Gujarat chief minister when the Gulberg Society massacre took place, greets incumbent CM Bhupendra Patel (not in this frame) at Parliament House on Friday.
PTI picture

Our Bureau, PTI   |   New Delhi   |   Published 25.06.22, 02:17 AM

The Supreme Court on Friday upheld a special investigation team’s clean chit to then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and 63 others over the 2002 riots, dismissing a plea from slain Congress leader Ehsan Jafri’s wife Zakia who had alleged a larger conspiracy.

A bench headed by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar brought the curtain down on the bid to reopen the probe, saying the material collected during investigation did not “give rise to strong or grave suspicion regarding hatching of larger criminal conspiracy at the highest level” to cause mass violence against Muslims.


“Suffice it to observe that there is no tittle of material, much less tangible material to support the plea of the appellant that the Godhra incident unfolded on February 27, 2002, and the events which followed, were a pre-planned event owing to the criminal conspiracy hatched at the highest level in the state,” the bench said.

Former Congress MP Ehsan was among 69 people killed at Ahmedabad’s Gulberg Society on February 28, 2002, a day after the Godhra train fire. The Centre told the Rajya Sabha in May 2005 that 254 Hindus and 790 Muslims — 1,044 people in all — had died in the riots.

The bench, which included Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and C.T. Ravikumar, termed Zakia Jafri’s plea devoid of merit and suggested there was a “coalesced effort of disgruntled (Gujarat) officials” to “create sensation” by making claims whose falsity the SIT had exposed.

It said then IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt and former Gujarat minister Haren Pandya had falsely claimed to be eyewitnesses to a meeting in which the then chief minister allegedly made some “utterances”.

Bhatt had told the Supreme Court that Modi had on the night of February 27, 2002 — hours after the Godhra train fire had killed 59 kar sevaks — asked the police brass to “let Hindus vent their anger”.

The bench spoke of a “devious stratagem to keep the pot boiling, obviously, for ulterior design” and said that all those involved in “such abuse of process need to be in the dock and proceeded with in accordance with law”.

The apex court praised the SIT’s “indefatigable work” in challenging circumstances and said it had come out with “flying colours unscathed”.

“For, there is no material worth the name to even create a suspicion (leave alone strong suspicion and a ground for presuming that the named offenders had committed an offence of larger conspiracy), indicative of the meeting of the minds of all concerned at some level; and in particular, the bureaucrats, politicians, public prosecutors, VHP, RSS, Bajrang Dal or the members of the state political establishment — for hatching a larger criminal conspiracy at the highest level to cause and precipitate mass violence against the minority community across the state,” the top court said.

Zakia’s son Tanvir Jafri told PTI: “I am disappointed with the court verdict. Since I am out of the country, I will give a detailed statement after studying the judgment.”

His lawyer said Tanvir was in Mecca on Haj pilgrimage, and Zakia was in the US with her daughter.

Zakia had in June 2006 alleged a larger conspiracy, and the apex court had appointed the SIT in March 2008. On February 8, 2012, the SIT filed a closure report giving a clean chit to Modi and the 63 other accused, who included senior government and police officials.

Zakia unsuccessfully petitioned a local court in April 2013, and then Gujarat High Court in October 2017, seeking rejection of the SIT report. She approached the Supreme Court in September 2018.

On Friday, the apex court said no fault could be found with the SIT’s approach and its final report of February 2012 was backed by firm logic, “expositing analytical mind and dealing with all aspects objectively for discarding the allegations regarding larger criminal conspiracy”.

In its 452-page verdict, the apex court said the question of a further probe did not arise since no new material or information had come up.


“Intriguingly, the present proceedings have been pursued for last 16 years (from submission of complaint dated June 8, 2006 running into 67 pages and then by filing protest petition dated April 15, 2013 running into 514 pages) including with the audacity to question the integrity of every functionary involved in the process of exposing the devious stratagem adopted (to borrow the submission of counsel for the SIT), to keep the pot boiling, obviously, for ulterior design,” the court said.

It said it found force in the State’s argument that the testimonies of Bhatt, Pandya and now-retired IPS officer R.B. Sreekumar were meant only to sensationalise and politicise the matter, “although, replete with falsehood”.

Sreekumar had in his deposition before the Nanavati-Shah commission suggested a dubious role by the administration during the 2002 violence. Pandya, who made allegations similar to Bhatt’s, was shot dead on March 26, 2003, in Ahmedabad during his morning walk.

On the claims by Bhatt and Pandya about the purported February 27, 2002, meeting, the court said: “Persons not privy to the stated meeting, where utterances were allegedly made by the then chief minister, falsely claimed themselves to be eyewitnesses, and after thorough investigation by the SIT, it has become clear that their claim of being present in the meeting was itself false to their knowledge.

“We hasten to add that it is only because of the ultra-sensational revelation projected by Sanjiv Bhatt and Haren Pandya, who unabashedly claimed to be privy to the utterances made by the then chief minister in an official meeting, the constitutional functionaries and this court was required to move into action taking serious note of the same.”

The apex court said the SIT had collated material that show that state functionaries had worked and planned very hard to control what was a spontaneous mass violence across Gujarat.

It said the state functionaries had called for central forces without loss of time and Modi had made repeated public appeals for peace.

The top court said that inaction or failure on the part of some officials from one section of the state administration cannot be a basis to infer a pre-planned criminal conspiracy by the state government or allege a State-sponsored crime against the minority community.

Pat for SIT

The court said the SIT had been entrusted with the investigation of nine sets of crimes, including the Gulberg Society massacre.

It added that the SIT had undertaken this “humungous task” dispassionately, with sincerity and objectivity, to the satisfaction of the apex court in all the cases.

The bench said the argument of the appellant (Zakia) had bordered on undermining the integrity and sincerity of the SIT members and “questioning the wisdom of this court”.

“While parting, we express our appreciation for the indefatigable work done by the team of SIT officials in the challenging circumstances they had to face, and yet, we find that they have come out with flying colours unscathed,” it said.

“Needless to underscore that the SIT came to be constituted by this court of experienced senior officials with proven ability of investigating complex offences. Therefore, we find such submission as not only far-fetched and an attempt to undo and undermine the industry of the SIT in having thoroughly investigated all the nine sets of cases assigned to it by this court, but also in the nature of questioning the wisdom of this court.”

The bench said that each of the nine sets of cases, including the gruesome killing of Ehsan, was duly investigated by the SIT and the accused sent for trial.

Senior Gujarat Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia said there was no option other than accepting the Supreme Court’s verdict.

“Many people were burnt alive during the riots. One of them was our party’s former MP Ehsan Jafri. His wife Zakia was fighting the case even at the age of 85 because she was hoping to get justice. Now, there is no option for us other than to accept the Supreme Court verdict,” he said.

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