Friday, October 10, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

Harish Salve is amicus curiae
Our Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, October 9
After being admonished by the Supreme Court for failing to secure justice for the riot victims, the Narendra Modi government today informed the apex court that it had pleaded with the Gujarat High Court for a fresh probe and a retrial in the Best Bakery case in which all the 21 accused were acquitted.

“We have made prayers in the amended appeal before the high court for reinvestigation, retrial, placing additional evidence and quashing the entire proceedings of the trial court in the Best Bakery case,” Additional Solicitor-General (ASG) Mukul Rohtagi, appearing for the Gujarat Government, told a three-Judge Bench, headed by the Chief Justice, Mr V.N. Khare.

The Bench, having Mr Justice S B Sinha and Mr Justice A R Lakshmanan as the other judges, despite a categorical statement by Gujarat’s counsel, appointed senior advocate Harish N Salve as amicus curiae to assist the state government in adjudicating the appeal before the high court to ensure close monitoring of the proceedings by the state’s legal authorities in the high court.

Directing the Gujarat Government counsel to supply all the necessary documents of the case to Mr Salve, the court sought his comments on the action taken by the state legal authorities, so, far in the matter, by October 17 when it will take up for further hearing an NHRC petition seeking a CBI inquiry into the Best Bakery and other major riot cases and transferring the trial outside the state.

The court said it would also wait for the outcome of the high court’s hearing tomorrow on various petitions raising the issue of providing protection to witnesses.

The NHRC had said that the Best Bakery case had fallen flat because 37 of the 43 witnesses had turned hostile.

The Gujarat Government counsel further said that the state’s Advocate-General would be personally monitoring the trials in various cases and six police officers of the rank of IG had been appointed for day-to-day monitoring of the proceedings in different cases. The state government had also appointed experienced lawyers as special public prosecutors to handle the trials, he said.

The court made it clear that none of those prosecutors be engaged again, who had conducted the trial earlier.

It also heard seven other petitions on the plight of the riot victims and directed the Gujarat Government to file a separate affidavit regarding these petitions filed by several eminent personalities, including noted dansesuse Mallika Sarabhai and author Mahashweta Devi.

The court, however, said it would hear these writ petitions separately from that of the NHRC.

Apart from the CBI inquiry and transfer of the trial outside the state, they had raised the issue of discrimination against victims from the minority community in paying compensation.

NHRC counsel P.P. Rao and T.R. Andhyarujina reiterated their demand for a CBI inquiry and transferring of the major riot cases outside the state contending that in the present situation even if a fresh probe was ordered, it would hardly make any difference as the inquiry would be done by the same state police, which failed to do its duty earlier.

Senior advocate Indira Jaisingh, appearing for Mallika Sarabhai, also pleaded with the court for issuing a direction to the Centre as well as the Gujarat Government to include a member from the minority community in the two-member riot inquiry commission, headed by a former Supreme Court Judge, Mr Justice G.T. Nanavati.

Ms Jaisingh said it was necessary for reposing the faith of the minority community in the system, though the petitioners had full faith in the commission’s members.

She also sought a direction to the Gujarat Government to file details about the total number of cases registered, persons chargesheeted, accused granted bail, compensation paid to the victims and their rehabilitation.

But the court was not impressed with her demand and told her that she was “going too far and this is not proper.”

Former Law Minister and senior advocate Shanti Bhushan, appearing for an NGO, Citizens for Justice and Peace, which had filed a petition on behalf of Best Bakery case key witness Zahira Sheikh, also supported the NHRC plea for shifting the trial outside the state in major riot cases. “No fair trial is expected in the communally surcharged atmosphere in the state,” he argued.

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