Saturday, September 13, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

Quit if you can’t protect citizens, SC tells Modi govt
S. S. Negi
Our Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, September 12
Coming down heavily on the Narendra Modi government for the prosecution’s failure in the Best Bakery case resulting in the acquittal of all 21 accused, the Supreme Court today summoned the Gujarat Chief Secretary and the Director-General of Police to explain the reasons for this lapse and about filing a “shoddily drafted” appeal in the high court.

Stating that if the government was not able to protect its citizens, it should better quit the office, a Bench comprising Chief Justice Mr V N Khare, Mr Justice Brijesh Kumar and Mr Justice S B Sinha directed top officers of the state’s civil and police administration to appear before it on September 19.

Describing the draft of appeal filed by the government in the Gujarat High Court against the acquittals as an “eyewash”, the Chief Justice asked state government counsel Mukul Rohtagi, “What the Rajdharma is?”

Outrightly rejecting the memo of appeal, the Chief Justice said “I have no faith in the prosecution and the state government... I am not saying (about) Article 356 (imposition of President’s Rule). You have to protect the citizens and prosecute the guilty. What is Rajdharma?... If you cannot protect them then it is better to quit.”

When the state government counsel tried to argue that the failure of the prosecution in riot cases during the past 40 years was a malice ...and it was not an occasion like an earlier one when the Chief Minister was at the mercy of others as he is “democratically elected”... The Chief Justice said “democracy does not mean that you will not prosecute the guilty. Will you mean that the rioters in Gujarat should also be acquitted because of this malady.”

The court was also not impressed with the state government counsel’s contention that it would re-draft the appeal.

Hearing the petition by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) seeking a fresh probe into the Best Bakery case and retrial in it and nine other major riot cases outside Gujarat, the court said it might order a CBI inquiry or “have its own agency” to look into the matter if the state government failed to take corrective measures.

After going through the appeal, the court demanded from the Gujarat Government counsel as to who had prepared its draft. “Is this an appeal? A lawyer with even one year’s experience will prepare a better draft than the one filed by the state,” the Bench asked.

Warning the state government that the apex court would not be a silent spectator to its inaction, the Bench said “the appeal is nothing but just an eyewash.”

Earlier NHRC counsel P P Rao quoting from the trial court judgement said it had clearly indicated in the order that the state government had prosecuted “wrong persons, produced bogey witnesses and false evidence” before the fast-track court at Vadodara. The prosecution had not even bothered to cross-examine the 37 witnesses why they had turned hostile in the case, he said.

Taking note of his arguments, the Bench told the Gujarat Government counsel “we have no faith in your prosecuting agency. There appears to be some collusion between the government and the prosecution, which should be independent. It is a serious matter as the case relates to burning alive of 14 persons.”

The blame could not be put on the courts. They would go by what the prosecution would produce before them. “The state does not show any concern. No questions were asked from the witnesses about why they had turned hostile. You will do the same in the high court when the appeal is taken up for hearing by it,” the court observed.

The NHRC in its petition had said that the Best Bakery case’s main complainant and key witness Zahira Shaikh, seven of whose relatives were killed by rioters on February 28 last year, had told it that she had realised from her statement about recognising the culprits because there was a threat to her and her family from certain persons and no protection was provided to her by the state government.

The court in its last hearing had ordered the Gujarat Government to provide protection to the victims and the witnesses.


Cong for President’s rule in Gujarat
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, September 12
Demanding imposition of President’s Rule in Gujarat in view of the Supreme Court’s “stinging indictment” of the Modi government for its failure to ensure justice in the Best Bakery case, the Congress today asked Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to follow his “Rajdharma.”

Congress chief spokesman Jaipal Reddy said the Supreme Court’s "unprecedented observation’’ in connection with the Best Bakery case amounted to a stinging and wide-ranging indictment of the Modi government’s acts of omission and commission. 

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