Supreme Court fast-tracks key Gujarat riot cases, victims hopeful (Roundup)

New Delhi/Ahmedabad, May 1 (Inditop) More than seven years after the communal violence in Gujarat, survivors have fresh hopes of getting justice as the Supreme Court Friday ordered the state to set up special fast-track courts to try 10 key cases and provide protection to witnesses. It, however, ruled out transferring the cases out of Gujarat.

While giving its ruling on a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) petition requesting the transfer of the cases to another state, a bench of Justices Arijit Pasayat and Asok Kumar Ganguly ordered the establishment of six special fast-track courts in Gujarat itself for trial of the select cases of large-scale violence and massacres.

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court had also ordered an investigation team to probe the role of Chief Minister Narendra Modi as well as 50 other politicians and government officials in the violence.

At least 1,180 people, mostly Muslims, died in the riots which began after 59 passengers were killed in a fire on a train in Godhra, about 140 km from Ahmedabad, on Feb 27, 2002.

The cause of the fire has not been clearly established with two government-appointed panels giving differing versions.

The fast-track courts will be set up in Naroda Patia, Naroda Gam, Gulbarg Society and Sabarmati jail in Ahmedabad as well as Mehsana, Sabarkantha and Anand districts.

The bench also ordered the state government to appoint senior and experienced lawyers as special public prosecutors.

The Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) will keep track of the trial and give quarterly reports to the court.

The bench also said the appointments should be made in consultation with the SIT, headed by former Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director R.K. Raghavan.

The bench said it was necessary to hold day-to-day trial considering that seven years had passed since the mass murders.

It also ordered appointment of senior judicial officers to preside over the trials of these and requested the chief justice of the Gujarat High Court to personally select the judicial officers.

The court stipulated several conditions to protect the witnesses in the cases “to ensure that a sense of confidence is enthused in the victims and their relatives so that they depose fearlessly before the court”.

But the apex court said the SIT would take a final call on what type of security is to be provided to a particular witness.

The Supreme Court had constituted the SIT March 28, 2008 in response to the NHRC petition seeking a CBI probe into the 10 crucial cases.

Expressing “happiness” over the court’s order, Raghavan said: “I think it is going to facilitate the work of the SIT in Gujarat. I look forward to further work in that direction.”

The SIT, besides Raghavan, comprises former Uttar Pradesh director general of police C.D. Satpathy and three senior police officers from Gujarat – Geeta Johri, Shivanand Jha and Ashish Bhatia.

The SIT’s brief is to “inquire and investigate” cases relating to the Godhra carnage and subsequent riots in places like Godhra, Gulbarg Society, Naroda Patiya, Best Bakery, Baranpura, Machhipith, Tarsali, Raghovpura, Pandarwada and Sardarpura.

Political reactions were along expected lines.

“I have no comments to make on the decision of the Supreme Court, but now it would be the concern of the Gujarat High Court for holding a fair trial. Also, the high court has to ensure that the SIT has a free hand,” said Congress spokesperson M. Veerappa Moily.

According to BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad, the issue of the Gujarat riots was deliberately brought up before elections.

“We are happy that the Supreme Court had taken a correct decision; do not forget that many convictions have taken place in Gujarat in the cases investigated by the police. People also rake up the issue of Gujarat riots before elections but deliberately ignore the Godhra carnage,” Prasad said.

Survivors and their lawyers welcomed the court order.

In Naroda Patia on the outskirts of the city, where at least 95 people were killed Feb 28, 2002, survivors were jubilant.

Abdul Gaffar Gani, 50, a resident of Naroda Patia who was injured in a mob attack but managed to escape death, said: “This is a great relief for the riot victims and also for their lawyers as the SIT would keep the apex court apprised of the progress of the investigation regularly. There are still many of the riot victims who are awaiting justice for the past seven years.”

Mukul Sinha, a senior lawyer who represents victims, said the Supreme Court order was an important verdict.

“You can be assured of quick and fair trial now and that was very urgently needed. It is great news for the riot victims who had been waiting for justice for the past seven years,” he said.