Thursday, November 30, 2023

SIT clean chit to Narendra Modi: Supreme Court to resume hearing of Zakia Jafri plea tomorrow

Ehsan Jafri was a member of the 6th Lok Sabha for the Congress party and was among the 68 people who died in the Gulbarg Society Massacre during the 2002 Gujarat riots

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The Supreme Court will resume its hearing tomorrow in the plea filed by Zakia Ahsan Jafri, the widow of slain ex-MP Ehsan Jafri, challenging the decision of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) to give a clean chit to the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi in the 2002 riots.

Ehsan Jafri was a member of the 6th Lok Sabha for the Congress party and was among the 68 people who died in the Gulbarg Society Massacre during the 2002 Gujarat riots, a day after the Sabarmati Express was burned at Godhra killing 59 people and resulting in riots in the state.

A three-judge bench led by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice C.T. Ravikumar heard the matter today.

Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal submitted the background of the case along with the date of events.

He also questioned how the Magistrate denied taking evidence, if not related to Gulbarg? “The matter was relegated back to the Magistrate. The Magistrate said he doesn’t have the power and he said that he won’t act on the protest petitions. The magistrate is duty-bound to take note of the information and take cognizance, even if SIT said no case has been made out. This is wholly irrelevant. Neither the Magistrate nor the revisional court has done that. Tell me if any court has ever denied looking at the shreds of evidence. If I can provide information to the Magistrate, the Magistrate is duty-bound to take cognizance.”

In 2006, the petitioner filed a complaint to the DGP, Gujarat wherein the complaint categorically alleges that there is a widespread conspiracy that led to the collapse of law and order. Sibal revealed that the official report from a sting operation by Ashish Khetan had been denied and was not taken into consideration.

The bench questions Sibal, “Your main issue seems to be that material evidence you wanted to be part of your protest petition but that has not been taken into account by SIT?” Sibal clarifies that both SIT and the Magistrate did not take the relevant material into consideration.

The bench asked about how has the Magistrate dealt with this matter? Sibal mentioned that the magistrate has not considered at all and as justification, the magistrate said that he is only concerned with the Gulbarg society matter and nothing else.

In February 2012, the SIT had filed a closure report giving a clean chit to Modi and 63 others, including senior government officials, saying there was no prosecutable evidence against them. Zakia Jafri had filed a petition in Supreme Court in 2018, challenging the Gujarat High Court’s October 5, 2017 order rejecting her plea against the decision of the SIT.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta stated: “Kindly see the petition as well the original compliant in the file which led to all these proceedings is filed by Zakia Jafri, she was staying in the Gulbarg Society. She lost her husband in this riot, that is what is pointed out here. The complaint was an ominous complaint against some 60+ persons, constitutional machinery failed, not discharging the duties as per oath etc which was investigated and since this concern Gulbarg society incident, she also mentioned in her complaint that this is Gulbarg society, therefore, it was filed in that particular trial.”

Sibal responded, “Yes right, my learned friend is saying absolutely right! There is no dispute, yes, it was filed except when the matter came to Supreme Court, the SIT investigation related to things beyond the larger conspiracy beyond Gulbarg which is why the matter was sent to the Magistrate under Section 173(2) otherwise further investigation of Gulbarg would have been carried out, but that was neither the case because the SIT itself carried out investigation across the state and that material was before the Supreme Court and the Amicus was also investigating beyond Gulbarg, that material is also before the supreme court… reads the para of the judgement”….

“How can you say that it is limited to Gulbarg? Why are the 60 people involved in the complaint limited to Gulbarg? They were not! Why would the court add this in para 11? Forget all this. Am I not entitled as a matter of law, when I bring something to the notice of the Magistrate, forget whether he is limited to Gulbarg or not. It is information that has been brought under 191c what does he need to do? I have given the information. Has your lordship ever said in any of the judgment that he will not look at it?”

Sibal also asked about the PMLA case to which the bench replied, “After this matter, we will hear PMLA case.”

The matter has been adjourned for several occasions earlier. On the previous hearing, Sibal had sought an adjournment to October 26, 2021 to file an additional compilation before the court for better assistance. Further, it was made clear that no request for further adjournment will be entertained.

Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat when the riots took place, arguably the worst communal pogrom witnessed in India since the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and claimed over 2000 lives of people of the Muslim community. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appeared for the Gujarat Government and Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the SIT, had opposed Sibal’s request for adjournment on the last date and said the case should be heard in the following week.

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