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Above: Victims of the Muzaffarnagar riots who fled to Loni and areas bordering Delhi/Photo Courtesy: YouTube

The Yogi Adityanath government’s decision to withdraw the criminal cases related to the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots is a pointer that the CM always doesn’t mean what he says

By Govind Pant Raju in Lucknow

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath never loses an opportunity to wax eloquent about his intent to establish the rule of law in the state but his government’s actions seldom match up to his words. Its recent attempts to withdraw the lawsuits, in the criminal cases related to the Muzaffarnagar riots, is a pointer.

On July 24, the state government resumed its proceedings to withdraw 22 more case against the accused in the Muzaffarnagar riots, taking the total number of such cases to 70. Three orders were issued to the district administration recently by the Yogi government. Additional District Magistrate Amit Kumar confirmed that he had received three orders to withdraw 22 cases. Most of these cases are related to arson and robbery. He has sent all these cases to the public prosecutor of the respective districts. Earlier last year, the government had written to the district administration to withdraw 48 cases out of 60 related cases, but it was left hanging with the District Administration as the post of Sessions Judge has been vacant since the last seven months. District government counsel Dushyant Tyagi mentioned moving the applications at the relevant courts. “It is for the court to accept or reject the government’s position,” he said. The remaining 12 cases are also being considered in the lower courts. Apart from these, five cases were settled in court, while in one case the police filed the final report.

A quick recap of the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots which broke out during the regime of the Samajwadi Party (SP): Violent clashes between Hindus and Muslims in Muzaffarnagar district led to at least 62 deaths, including 42 Muslims and 20 Hindus, injured 93 and left more than 50,000 displaced. The exact numbers have been the subject of much debate. In a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by a victim of the violence in the Supreme Court, the number of deaths is suggested to be over 200.

The riots have been described as “the worst case of violence in Uttar Pradesh in recent history”, with the army, as a result, being deployed in the state for the first time in the last 20 years. The Supreme Court while hearing petitions related to the riots held the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party prima facie guilty of negligence in preventing the violence and ordered it to immediately arrest all the accused irrespective of their political affiliations. The Court also blamed the Central government for its failure to provide intelligence inputs to the state government in time to help sound alerts.

A total of 502 cases were registered where 6,867 people were accused. Since 2017, Muzaffarnagar courts have delivered verdicts in 41 cases and have acquitted the accused in 40 cases where Muslims were attacked. Around half a dozen cases had been filed against BJP’s ageing legislator Umesh Malik who said that they had a meeting with the chief minister last year in which they requested him to withdraw the fake lawsuits filed against innocent people during the SP regime. In this connection, the government has recommended the withdrawal of 22 more cases.

Human rights activist Ovais Sultan Khan, who has been working with the victims since 2013, said this was the third attempt by the Yogi government in the past year to derail the judicial process in the case. He refuted the administration’s claim that witnesses are being protected.

Last year, the Chief Minister assured BJP MP Sangeet Baliyan to withdraw some cases after he requested him to do so. Baliyan had alleged that there were more than 402 false cases registered during the riots, naming 856 innocent people. Amongst the accused, 100 women were also included in nine cases. However, the case is likely to hit a judicial hurdle as the SP and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have decided to challenge the move in the court. BSP state unit President Ramachal Rajbhar said the decision of the BJP government to withdraw cases against the riot accused charged with murder, loot and arson were politically motivated. “The local leaders have been directed to challenge the petition of the state government for withdrawal of cases in the district court,” Rajbhar said.

Under Section 321 of the Criminal Procedure Code cases may be withdrawn by the state government. The application for withdrawal of the cases has to be forwarded to the district magistrate of the respective district. The report of the district magistrate will be placed before a two-member committee, comprising the Principal Secretary, Home and Principal Secretary, Law. The committee will forward its recommendation to the law minister. Once the state government gives its approval for the withdrawal of cases, the public prosecutor will move a petition in the district court for the same. It is then up to the public prosecutor to convince the court that the withdrawal of the cases is in public interest.

Since 2017, Muzaffarnagar courts have delivered verdicts in 41 cases linked to the riots and delivered a conviction in just one case of murder. All the 40 acquittals have come in cases involving attacks on Muslims. The only conviction which came on February 8 this year, was when the sessions court sentenced seven accused to life in prison for the murder of cousins Gaurav and Sachin in Kawal village on August 27, 2013. This incident is believed to have triggered the riots.

The investigation into these cases signals something far more sinister. Earlier five prosecution witnesses did a complete U-turn in the court claiming that they were not present when their relatives were murdered while the FIRs mentioned otherwise. Six other prosecution witnesses also turned hostile and deposed that the police forced them to sign blank papers. The police could not produce the murder weapons in court for about five cases. These are a few amongst the many glaring holes in the UP government’s prosecution cases. Based on the testimonies, and holding that witnesses, mostly relatives of those killed, had turned hostile, the court had to acquit all in the 10 murder trials that were conducted between January 2017 and February 2019. All these happenings in the public sphere question the true intent of the government which swears that law and order is at the top of its agenda.

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