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Communal riots broke out in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli towns of UP in 2013 leading to the murder of 60 Muslims, at least four BJP MLAs are charged in these cases

In a move that smacks of an effort to shield influential BJP leaders and their supporters from standing trial on charges of murder, arson and other heinous crimes, the Yogi Adityanath government of Uttar Pradesh has, reportedly, initiated the process to withdraw 131 cases linked to the 2013 communal riots in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli.

According to a report in The Indian Express, these cases include at least 13 of murder and 11 of attempt to murder. It is pertinent to note that controversial BJP MP Sanjiv Balyan and at least three other legislators/ministers from the saffron party – Umesh Malik (Budhana MLA), Suresh Rana (State Sugarcane Minister) and Sangeet Som (Sardhana MLA) – are among those who are facing charges in connection with the Muzaffarnagar riots.

The decision to withdraw the riots-linked cases comes nearly a year after the equally controversial move by the state administration to refuse grant of sanction to prosecute chief minister Yogi Adityanath in a case related to inciting hate and communal violence during the 2007 Gorakhpur riots.

Sources say that the Adityanath government has sought legal opinion from its law department to withdraw the 131 cases lodged against Hindus in connection with the September 2013 Muzaffarnagar and Shamli riots in which over 62 persons – all Muslims – were killed and hundreds of them were forced to flee the two towns fearing for their safety.

A total of 503 cases were registered against around 1,455 persons at police stations in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli by the then Samajwadi Party government led by chief minister Akhilesh Yadav.

According to The Indian Express report these cases include charges under Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections related to “heinous” crimes with a minimum punishment of seven years in jail.

“Besides, there are 16 cases under section 153 A on charges of promoting enmity on religious grounds, and two under section 295 A for deliberate and malicious acts intended to insult a religion or religious beliefs,” the report said, adding: “The decision to start the process on the withdrawal was taken after a delegation of khap leaders from Muzaffarnagar and Shamli, including BJP MP Sanjiv Balyan and the party’s Budhana MLA Umesh Malik, met chief minister Adityanath on February 5 and presented a list of 179 cases.”

Balyan has confirmed that in the list presented to chief minister Yogi Adityanath, all the accused were Hindus. Budhana MLA Umesh Malik has also conceded that the cases in the list include those of murder and attempt to murder.

Following the meeting between Adityanath and the delegation led by Balyan, the state’s law department – on February 23 – reportedly sent letters signed by Special Secretary, Rajesh Singh, to the district magistrates of Muzaffarnagar and Shamli, seeking details of 131 of the 179 cases mentioned in the list given by the BJP leaders. The law department has sought to know the current status of these cases and also “in connection with the withdrawal of cases, your clear opinion on public interest with reason.”

The law department has also sent to the district magistrate eight pages referring to each FIR, including name of the district and police station where it was lodged, the case number and IPC sections listed. The letters along with other annexures have, reportedly, been forwarded by the district magistrates to the superintendents of police and prosecuting officers concerned directing them to furnish further details.

The Indian express report also quotes Balyan saying: “In the meeting with the Chief Minister last month, I requested him to consider the withdrawal of 179 cases in which over 850 Hindus were held accused. All these cases were registered in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts. We had been preparing the list for a while now.”

Earlier, on January 5, the Adityanath government had sought a report from Muzaffarnagar administration on the withdrawal of nine cases against Budhana MLA Umesh Malik, including two for the riots.

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