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SC stays trial in Godhra, nine other cases
Issues notice to Gujarat Government
Our Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, November 21
The Supreme Court, which had earlier expressed anguish over the callous way of handling trials in riot cases in Gujarat, today lashed out at the Narendra Modi government again for showing no change in functioning. It also stayed the trial in 10 important cases relating to the killing of hundreds of people.

Issuing notice to the Gujarat Government seeking its reply why all major cases should not be transferred outside Gujarat, a Bench headed by the Chief Justice, Mr V.N. Khare, said, “If this is the state of affairs it is a serious matter and...the court would order the transfer of the trials outside the state.”

“I thought by now they (Gujarat authorities) will be wise enough to take corrective measures,” observed the Chief Justice when senior advocate Harish Salve, who has been appointed amices curiae to assist the Gujarat High Court in hearing the appeal in the Best Bakery case, narrated a series of instances of prosecution’s blunders in handling the trials in all major cases.

The 10 cases in which the stay was granted included the Godhra train carnage, Gulburga society massacre in which a Congress MP was among 70 persons killed, Naroda Patia riots relating to the death of 110 persons, Sardarpur and Ode incidents resulting in the killing of several persons.

“In Gulburga case Public Prosecutor Chetan Shah, himself is an accused in a charge-sheet filed on the death of nine persons during riots,” Mr Salve in his report said, adding that when objection was raised about his appointment he got his junior appointed as the Public Prosecutor.

The report, citing various instances of prosecution’s failure to provide justice to riot victims, was converted into an interlucatory application by the court and the Gujarat Government was directed to file a reply within two weeks giving details as in how many cases the accused were acquitted and appeals on how many had been filed in the high court. The court fixed December 19 for further hearing in the matter.

Of the 10 cases, transfer of nine outside Gujarat was sought by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and “gross mishandling” of trial was pointed out in one of the case by a riot victim. Notices were also issued to the state government in two other petitions pointing out miscarriage of justice, resulting in acquittal of all accused persons.

When Salve pointed out that in all the major cases the accused had been granted bail, which was not opposed by the prosecution before the trial judges and the high court, the Bench, having Mr Justice S.B. Sinha and Mr Justice A.R. Lakshmanan, asked Gujarat Government counsel Mukul Rohtagi whether any appeal had been filed in the apex court against the high court orders on bail.

Mr Rohtagi tried to point out that the bail was not granted due to any fault of the state as those were the results of the judicial orders, the Chief Justice asked “was not it the duty of the state to file special leave petitions in this court against the high court order.”

Many a time the courts might “err” in deciding a case and would not it be proper for the government to file the SLP. “How many times you have to be reminded about this,” Mr Justice Khare asked Mr Rohtagi.

Not favouring a CBI probe in any of the riot cases, Mr Salve said there were good and honest investigators in the Gujarat Police and a special investigative team (SIT) consisting of such policemen needed to be constituted under the orders and the authority of the apex court.

A special monitoring committee, headed by a retired high court judge be appointed on the orders of the Supreme Court to deal with all riot cases and it should be assisted by SIT, Mr Salve said, adding that the trial in all major cases be shifted to Maharashtra to instil confidence of the people in judiciary.

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