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2002 Guj riots: SC upholds SIT clean chit to Modi

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday upheld the SIT’s clean chit to the then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and 63 others in the 2002 communal riots in the state, saying there is no tittle of material to show the violence after the Godhra train carnage was pre-planned” owing to the criminal conspiracy allegedly hatched at the “highest level” in the state.

Observing that inaction or failure of some officials of one section of the administration cannot be the basis to readily infer a pre-planned criminal conspiracy by the authorities or to term it as a state-sponsored crime against the minority community, the court dismissed a plea by slain Congress leader Ehsan Jafri’s wife Zakia, terming it as “devoid of merits”.

Bringing the curtains down on the bid to reopen the probe into the 2002 riots, a bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar also spoke of the devious stratagem to keep the pot boiling, obviously, for ulterior design , and said disgruntled officers of the Gujarat government need to be in the dock and proceeded with in accordance with law for creating a sensation by making false revelations.

Alleging a larger conspiracy behind the mass violence against Muslims, Zakia had challenged the Gujarat High Court’s October 5, 2017 order rejecting her petition against the finding of the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team(SIT).

The bench, also comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and C T Ravikumar, held that the material collected during the investigation does not give rise to strong or grave suspicion regarding hatching of larger criminal conspiracy at the highest level .
Ehsan Jafri, a former Congress MP, was among the 68 people killed at Ahmedabad’s Gulberg Society during the violence on February 28, 2002, a day after the Godhra train burning that claimed 59 lives. The riots that the Godhra carnage triggered killed 1,044 people, mostly Muslims. The Central government had informed the Rajya Sabha in May 2005 that 254 Hindus and 790 Muslims were killed in the post-Godhra riots.
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, was a pre-planned event owing to the criminal conspiracy hatched at the highest level in the state, the bench said in its 452-page judgement, which included annexures.
Shortly after the verdict was pronounced, “Satyamev Jayate”(Truth alone triumphs) was the unanimous refrain of BJP leaders including union ministers Anurag Thakur and Smriti Irani and party spokesperson Sambit Patra.
“The cottage industry of Modi haters have got a befitting reply from the apex court,” said former union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad at a news conference in Patna. “The Congress tried its level best to defame Modi ji.”
But Tanvir Jafri, son of Ehsan Jafri, said he was disappointed.
“I am disappointed with the court verdict. Since I am out of the country, I will give a detailed statement after studying the judgement,” he told PTI. According to Tanvir’s lawyer, he was in Mecca for Haj pilgrimage, while Zakia lives in the US with her daughter.

Arjun Modhwadia, a senior Congress leader from Gujarat, said there was no option other than to accept the verdict.The apex court said there must be credible evidence regarding the state-sponsored breakdown of law and order situation and conspiracy cannot be readily inferred merely based on inaction or failure of the state administration.

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 learned counsel for the SIT), to keep the pot boiling, obviously, for ulterior design, it said.

As a matter of fact, all those involved in such abuse of process, need to be in the dock and proceeded with in accordance with law.” The apex court appreciated the SIT for its indefatigable work in challenging circumstances and said it has come out with flying colours unscathed . The top court said no fault can be found with the SIT’s approach and its February 8, 2012 final report is backed by firm logic, expositing analytical mind and dealing with all aspects objectively for discarding the allegations regarding larger criminal conspiracy
We do not countenance the submission of the appellant regarding infraction of rule of law in the matter of investigation and the approach of the magistrate and the high court in dealing with the final report, the bench said as it upheld the decision of a magistrate in accepting the final report submitted by the SIT and rejecting the protest petition filed by Zakia Jafri. The court also said it finds force in the argument of the State that the testimony of Sanjiv Bhatt (then IPS officer), Haren Pandya (former Gujarat home minister), and R B Sreekumar (now retired IPS officer) was only to sensationalise and politicise the matters in issue, “although, replete with falsehood.” Pandya was shot dead on March 26, 2003, near Law Garden in Ahmedabad during a morning walk.

The apex court said Bhatt and Pandya falsely claimed themselves to be eye-witnesses of the meeting in which utterances were allegedly made by the then chief minister and the SIT has negated their claim.
At the end of the day, it appears to us that a coalesced effort of the disgruntled officials of the State of Gujarat along with others was to create a sensation by making revelations which were false to their own knowledge.

The falsity of their claims had been fully exposed by the SIT after a thorough investigation.”

The court noted that the SIT had formed its opinion after considering all the material collated during the investigation and the question of further probe would have arisen only on the availability of new material/information in connection with the allegation of larger conspiracy at the highest level, which is not forthcoming in this case.

As aforementioned, the SIT has gone by the logic of falsity of the information or material and including the same remaining uncorroborated.

In that, the materials collected during the investigation do not give rise to strong or grave suspicion regarding hatching of larger criminal conspiracy at the highest level for causing mass violence across the state against the minority community and more so, indicating involvement of the named offenders and their meeting of minds at some level in that regard.”

The bench said the magistrate after applying his mind independently to the final report and the material appended chose to accept it as it is without issuing any other direction to the SIT.