Gujarat riots: Supreme Court to peruse closure report of SIT

SIT gave clean chit to 64 persons, including Narendra Modi who was the Gujarat chief minister during the 2002 riots in the state

New Delhi: The Supreme Court Tuesday said it would like to peruse the closure report of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) giving the clean chit to 64 persons, including Narendra Modi who was the Gujarat chief minister during the 2002 riots in the state, and the justification given by the magisterial court while accepting it.

A bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar commenced the hearing on the plea of Zakia Jafri, the wife of slain Congress leader Ehsan Jafri, challenging the SIT’s clean chit with her lawyer Kapil Sibal submitting, We are not concerned with high dignitaries. There is nothing political. We are on law and order and the rights of an individual.

The senior lawyer said that he did not want conviction of the persons named in Jafri’s complaint at the moment and his case was that there was a larger conspiracy where there was bureaucratic inaction, police complicity, hate speeches and unleashing of violence .

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While Sibal was making the submissions, the bench, which also comprised Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and C T Ravikumar, said we want to see the justification given in the closure report (of the SIT). We want to see the order of the magistrate and his reasoning in accepting the report.

The senior advocate referred to the apex court’s orders, reports of the SIT and amicus curiae Raju Ramachandran to show that the clean chit and its subsequent acceptance by the courts below were not restricted to the Gulberg Society case in which Ehsan Jafri was among the 68 people killed in Ahmedabad on February 28, 2002.

We have made endeavours to show to the court that the SIT’s reports were not limited to the Gulberg Society massacre and even the complaint of Zakia Jafri and the closure report were not confined to one case alone, Sibal said, adding that the lower courts refused to consider the materials.

If we limit it only to Gulberg then what happens to the concept of rule of law, what happens to all material. A Republic stands or falls on the basis of what the court does, he said.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that the original complaint was filed by Zakia Jafri, who stayed in the Gulberg Society at Ahmedabad.

At the outset, Sibal referred to the list of dates in the matter starting from the 2002 riots in Gujarat and said the petitioner had filed a complaint to the Director-General of Police (DGP) saying that before the horrible tragedy, there were certain aspects which instigated communal violence.

He said the SIT was already in the seizure of several facts but it did not look into that while filing the closure report.

Sting operation by journalist

Sibal said the evidence was part of the record and apart from that, there was also a sting operation by a journalist.

If you look into it, you will be shocked. This sting operation was not looked into, he said.

He said there was evidence that must be taken into account to ascertain if the offence was committed and the evidence was related to the fact that police were not taking action, hate speeches were made and false information was conveyed to the people.

Referring to section 190 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), which deals with cognisance of offences, he said the magistrate is duty-bound to take cognisance when the court is apprised of certain facts and information which constitutes the commission of the offence.

The lawyer said that he was concerned with a grievance that arose from the closure report of the SIT which was already having several facts.

The magisterial court said that it would not look into anything else and will only look at the limited complaint of Zakia Jafri in the Gulberg Society case, Sibal said.

The material collected by SIT was not related to only Gulberg. The issue was not that only Gulberg was to be considered, our protest petition, all material had to be seen, he said, adding statements of witnesses were related to entire Gujarat and not one case .

The bench will resume hearing on Wednesday through virtual mode.

Ehsan Jafri

Ehsan Jafri, the former MP, was among the 68 people killed at Gulberg Society in Ahmedabad on February 28, 2002, a day after the S-6 Coach of the Sabarmati Express was burnt at Godhra killing 59 people and triggering riots in Gujarat.

On February 8, 2012, the SIT had filed a closure report giving a clean chit to Modi, now the prime minister, and 63 others, including senior government officials, saying there was “no prosecutable evidence” against them.

Zakia Jafri had filed a petition in the apex court in 2018 challenging the Gujarat High Court’s October 5, 2017 order rejecting her plea against the decision of the SIT.

The plea also maintained that after the SIT gave a clean chit in its closure report before a trial judge, Zakia Jafri filed a protest petition which was dismissed by the magistrate without considering “substantiated merits”.

It also said the high court “failed to appreciate” the petitioner’s complaint which was independent of the Gulberg Society case registered at a Police Station in Ahmedabad.

The high court in its October 2017 order had said the SIT probe was monitored by the Supreme Court. However, it partly allowed Zakia Jafri’s petition as far as its demand for a further investigation was concerned.

It had said the petitioner can approach an appropriate forum, including the magistrate’s court, a division bench of the high court, or the Supreme Court seeking further investigation.

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