Replete With Falsehood To Sensationalize And Politicize: SC On Allegations About Illegal Instructions By Then CM In Meeting After Godhra Carnage
"We find force in the argument of the respondent-State that the testimony of Mr. Sanjiv Bhatt, Mr. Haren Pandya and also of Mr. R.B. Sreekumar was only to sensationalize and politicize the matters in issue, although, replete with falsehood", the Supreme Court has said while dismissing Zakia Jafri's plea for probe into alleged larger conspiracy behind the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Sanjiv Bhatt, a former IPS officer, Haren Pandy, a then minister in the state and the former Gujarat cop R.B. Sreekumar had alleged that in a meeting held on February 27, 2002, on the day of the Godhra incident, the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi asked the senior police officials to allow to vent the Hindu anger on the minority in the wake of Godhra incident. This alleged incident was at the core of the claim about a larger criminal conspiracy at the highest level, behind the post-Godhra riots.
A report by a private panel of former Judges of the Supreme Court titled "Concerned Citizens Tribunal" also contained similar allegations.
The Bench of Justice A M Khanwilkar, Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice C T Ravikumar held that the allegations about a larger criminal conspiracy at the highest level are based on "false claim" which "stands collapsed like a house of cards" on account of the thorough investigation by the SIT constituted by the Apex Court.
After referring to the report of the SIT and the opinion of Amicus Curiae, the Court approved the finding that those who made allegations about the utterances by the CM in the meeting were not present in the meeting. "..persons not privy to the stated meeting, where utterances were allegedly made by the then Chief Minister, falsely claimed themselves to be eye-witnesses and after thorough investigation by the SIT, it has become clear that their claim of being present in the meeting was itself false to their knowledge", the Court held.
The Court said that because of the "ultra-sensational revelation" projected by Sanjiv Bhatt and Haren Pandya, the Court moved into action taking serious note of the same. "But, after thorough investigation by the SIT, the falsity of such claim has been fully exposed on the basis of credible indisputable materials collated by the SIT during the investigation in that regard", the Court said.
The Bench noted that the appellant Zakia Jafri gave up her plea about the alleged remarks by the Chief Minister during the meeting.
"..the enquiry to be made in this case is essentially regarding the allegations of larger criminal conspiracy at the highest level. That itself has, now, in a way, been abandoned by the appellant in this appeal", the Court said.
Mukul Rohatgi for the SIT had argued that Zakia is "changing goalpost at every stage of the proceedings before different Courts" and that the allegations about what transpired in the meeting were spelt out in the complaint and protest petition, but were dropped after its falsity was exposed by the SIT. Instead, the extra-judicial confessions recorded in the Tehelka sting operation were relied upon by her to support the larger conspiracy case.
Hard work by state functionaries to control riots
The Court has noted that the SIT has been able to collate materials indicative of the amount of hard work and planning of the concerned State functionaries in their attempt to control the spontaneous evolving situation of mass violence across the state "despite the handicap of administration including the inadequate State police force required to be replenished with central forces/Army, which were called without loss of time and the repeated appeals made by the then Chief Minister publicly to maintain peace".
Lack of effective measures is not criminal conspiracy
The Court said that lack of effective measures taken by the concerned officials per se does not imply criminal conspiracy on the part of the State authorities.
"There is no material forthcoming to indicate that there was failure on the part of intelligence to collect information and it was a deliberate act on the part of the State Government authorities", the Court held.
The Court held that the inaction of the duty holders to take intelligence reports to their logical end cannot be regarded as act of criminal conspiracy "unless there is material to provide link regarding the meeting of minds and deliberate act to effectuate a plan to spread mass violence across the State".
The Court held that the reports of the state intelligence bureau even before Godhra incident would show that the concerned officials were vigilant, "but the situation as evolved post Godhra incident, was unparalleled and had overrun the State administration".
The Court also noted that the inaction and negligence of the erring officials have been taken note of at the appropriate level including by initiating departmental action against them. "Conspiracy cannot be readily inferred merely on the basis of the inaction or failure of the State administration", the Court said.
"In light of such timely corrective measures taken by the State Government in right earnest and repeated public assurances given by the then Chief Minister that guilty will be punished for their crime(s), and to maintain peace, it would be beyond comprehension of any person of ordinary prudence to bear suspicion about the meeting of minds of named offenders and hatching of conspiracy by the State at the highest level, as alleged, much less grave or strong suspicion as being the quintessence for sending the accused for trial for an offence of criminal conspiracy", the Court said.
Mass mobilizations and other allegations
The Court rejected the argument of the appellant about the post-mortem of Godhra victims in the open and parading them from Godhra to Ahmedabad was part of the conspiracy to cause riots.
The Court noted that the argument about post-mortem is open in Railway yard was considered by the trial court and the High Court in the proceedings relating to the prosecution of the accused in the Godhra carnage.
The Court also noted that the decision to transport the dead bodies was a unanimous decision taken at the Godhra Collectorate as most of the passengers were to travel to Ahmedabad and their relatives had not reached or were unable to reach Godhra to collect their bodies. "..the entire exercise was within the control and supervision of the administration and there was no parading of dead bodies, as alleged", the Court held.
The Court also rejected the argument that the SIT did not collect call records of relevant persons. The Court noted that the SIT was constituted in 2008 pursuant to the compliant in 2006 and that it was not possible for SIT to retrieve call records.
The Court also rejected arguments about transfer/posting of officials post the riots and appointing "pro-VHP" advocates as prosecutors, saying that for it to be part of the conspiracy, it should have preceded the mass violence.
The Court said that the narratives recorded in the recommendations of the NHRC or the Concerned Citizens Tribunal cannot be the sole basis to proceed against offenders.
The Court also rejected the arguments about the alleged willful failure of the fire brigade in Ahmedabad to respond to the calls made by the minority community.