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SC lifts stay on trial of Gujarat riots cases
R Sedhuraman
Legal Correspondent

Apex court gets cracking

  • RK RaghavanDirects setting up of six fast-tracks courts for completing the proceedings on a day-to-day basis
  • Rejects NHRC's demand for shifting the trial cases out of Gujarat
  • Asks SIT to continue its probe and make recommendations on the security of witnesses
  • Gives SIT final say in appointing public prosecutors and seeking their replacement

New Delhi, May 1
Vacating the over five-year-long stay on the trial of the cases relating to the 2002 Godhra train fire and the subsequent riots in Gujarat, the Supreme Court today ordered the setting up of six designated fast-track courts to complete the proceedings on a day-to-day basis.

In a 42-page judgment, a three-member Bench headed by Justice Arijit Pasayat, however, rejected National Human Rights Commission's (NHRC) demand for shifting the trial out of Gujarat.

“The conduct of the trials has to be resumed on a day-to-day basis, keeping in view the fact that the incidents are of January 2002 and the trials already stand delayed by seven years. The need for early completion of sensitive cases more particularly in cases involving communal disturbances cannot be overstated,” Justice Pasayat, who wrote the judgment for the Bench, said.

Supplementary charge sheets should be filed as the apex court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT), headed by former CBI Director RK Raghavan, had found further material and identified other accused against whom charges were now to be brought, said the Bench, which included Justices P Sathasivam and Aftab Alam.

The SC had stayed the trial on November 21, 2003 following complaints of tardy investigation and that several accused were not booked. Subsequently, the court had set up the SIT to conduct further probe and file status reports periodically.

The SIT would continue its investigation and make its recommendations for the protection of witnesses, including their relocation outside Gujarat, if need be. The Union Home Ministry would make arrangements for the relocation.

Considering the nature and “sensitivity” of these cases and the history of the entire litigation, “senior judicial officers” should be appointed by the Gujarat HC Chief Justice to conduct the trials, the Bench said.

The SIT would have the final say in the appointment of public prosecutors (PPs) and the right to seek their replacements or the appointment of additional PPs, if necessary. It would also submit quarterly reports to the apex court in “sealed covers” so that the trials were smooth and satisfactory.

Referring to an apprehension that unruly situations might be created in the court to “terrorise” witnesses, the Bench said the trial court concerned would deal with such developments “sternly” and pass necessary orders. “The role of the victim in a criminal trial can never be lost sight of. He or she is an inseparable stakeholder in the adjudicating process.”

Three of the designated courts would be set up at Ahmedabad, including one at Sabarmati Jail, for holding trial in the Godhra train tragedy case.

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