The SIT

The SIT was dominated by the cops from Gujarat Police, the same organisation whose senior officers were accused of colluding with the rioters.

These cops were reporting to the Gujarat government headed by the prime accused, Mr Narendra Modi. Mr Modi had the power to reward them, or punish them.

It appears he rewarded them.

Supreme Court interventions

The Supreme Court (SC) intervened in several cases related to Gujarat 2002.

Why?

It had no choice. Gujarat Police’s investigations were very partisan & there were several instances of Judges getting threats.

In other words, in the eyes of the SC, the State of Gujarat was failing to deliver justice.

In Sep 2003, While hearing the National Human Rights Commission petition over acquittals in the Best Bakery case out of Gujarat, Chief Justice VN Khare of the SC told the Gujarat Government lawyers:

“I have no faith left in the prosecution and the Gujarat Government,”

“If you fail to act then we will have to step in. We are not sitting here as mere spectators”

When that still did not have the desired effect, the case was transferred out of Gujarat. While doing so, Justice Pasayat of the SC, declared that

“The modern day Neros were looking elsewhere when the Best Bakery and innocent children and helpless women were burning and were probably deliberating on how the perpetrators of the crime can be saved or protected.”

“When the investigating agency helps the accused, the witnesses are threatened to depose falsely and prosecutor acts in a manner as if he was defending the accused, and the Court was acting merely as an onlooker and there is no fair trial at all, JUSTICE becomes the VICTIM.

Notable examples of these SC interventions:

  • Best Bakery case: all accused are acquitted. SC orders a retrial in a Mumbai Court, but lets Gujarat police do investigations. This was only partly successful, quality of prosecution case (as prepared by Guj Police) was not very thorough, and key witnesses kept changing testimonies, which normally points to some pressures. Still, some of the accused were convicted by the Mumbai court.
  • Bilkis Bano case: all accused released. This time, SC Directed that CBI be handed over the investigation, and transferred the case to a Mumbai court again. This was very successful – 11 of the accused were given life sentences, and a Gujarat Police officer was also convicted for falsifying evidence.
  • Gulberg Society Massacre: Zakia Jafri, the Wife of ex MP, and a victim Ehsan Jafri, had tried to file a FIR against the senior state police officers and leadership, including Modi, but No FIR was registered and hence SC ask Gujarat Government to create the SIT – to assist the lower court determine if an FIR should be filed. Its members were nominated by Gujarat Govt.

Gujarat riots SIT

Why was SIT formed?

In 2006, Zakia Jafri petitioned the court alleging that Modi and 61 others, including politicians, policemen and bureaucrats, had colluded to ensure that the victims of the mob attacks during the Gulberg Massacre did not receive help. She accused Modi of abdicating his duty as the constitutionally elected head of the State government to protect the right to life of all its citizens regardless of their caste, community and gender and becoming the architect of a criminal conspiracy.
The Best Bakery, Bilkis Bano and numerous other cases relating to Gujarat Pogrom of 2002 had already shown that the Gujarat Government had failed to even prosecute the foot soldiers properly.
Zakia Jafri Petition had a very valid point- such blatant and numerous failures on the behalf of the State of first being unable to protect its citizens, and then even unable to properly prosecute the perpetrators,  indicated a wider conspiracy and complicity. Zakia Jafri, rightly so, wanted to go after the masterminds and kingpins of this conspiracy, rather than the pawns on the ground.
In 2007, the Gujarat HC rejected her petition on technical grounds. The Judge Justice M.R. Shah, said that the High Court could not direct the police to register a complaint. There was already an FIR on the Gulberg case, and that was one of the reasons given for rejection, as another FIR on the same incident need not be registered. However, we must recall that a lot of FIRs filed by Gujarat Police during the riots, including that of Bilkis Bano case, have shielded the perpetrators.
Zakia Jafri moved to SC seeking a CBI enquiry into Gulberg case, and transfer to a court outside Gujarat. This mechanism had worked well in Bilkis Bano case.
In 2008, SC asked Gujarat Government to form an SIT. It appointed the head – the former CBI director Raghavan. 3 out of 5 members were senior IPS officers from Gujarat itself, nominated by the Gujarat Govt.

Also, the SIT was only investigating some of the cases, not ALL of them.[4]

The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Gujarat government to set up a special investigation team (SIT) for a further probe into 14 Godhra and post-Godhra communal riots cases in 2002.

What were its powers?

Technically, the SIT had no judicial powers, it could just record the testimonies of those WILLING to depose.

From the news report about SC order on formation of SIT:

“IF any person wants to be examined by the SIT or wants to give his/her version of the alleged incidents, the SIT shall record the reasons.”

Praveen Togadia refused to appear on the first date SIT asked him to. (He later did). There was news that Modi had refused to appear initially too. Later, Modi claimed this was not true, and he would indeed appear.

Some police officers refused to answer questions claiming they did not remember, and SIT as powerless to probe any further.

Was SC “Monitoring” the SIT?

“Monitoring” merely means that the SC tracks the progress of the investigation via regular status reports since these tend to flounder indefinitely in India.

It does not mean that the SC proof-reads the interim evidence to check it’s veracity. The SC is a Court and not an investigation agency, because if it was one, it wouldn’t need to rent any SITs. The chain of conviction from the crime, FIR, investigation, charge-sheeting, trial and conviction/acquittal – is only as strong as the weakest link.

Once the investigation is over, the Supreme Court stops “monitoring” and asks the investigating agency to file a report and waits for the Magistrate to decide on whether the accused can stand trial.

SC stopped monitoring the SIT after the interim report. (Also note Gujarat Government’s petitions on this matter).

The final closure report was submitted a magistrate’s court – the lowest level of judiciary.

“The report was submitted in a sealed envelope by SIT officials in a magisterial court here as directed by the Supreme court, sources in the court said. The magistrate has to now take cognisance of the report.”

gulberg-quint-timeline

Gujarat Police members in the SIT

The 3 members of Gujarat Police in the SIT, and their subsequent “rewards” were:

  1. Ashish Bhatia – was appointed Home Secretary later.
  2. Shivanand Jha – got a top posting in Ahmedabad
  3. Geeta Johri – promoted to DGP1

All these officers were based in Gujarat. They worked with Gujarat Police – the same organisation whose senior officers were accused of colluding with the rioters. They were reporting to the Gujarat government headed by the prime accused, Mr Narendra Modi.

Mr Modi had the power to reward them, or punish them. There was a serious conflict of interest.

It appears he rewarded them.

Shivanand Jha, Assistance Commissioner of Police, Ahmedabad, was in charge of the control room at the time of the riots, and the needle of suspicion should point to him. But he was a key member of the SIT.

Supporting team of Policemen initially included Noel Parmar, a deputy SP who had tried to bribe witnesses in Godhra case for false testimony about selling petrol in advance.

Quoting from the report below, on Noel Parmar’s role in framing people in Godhra case.

Parmar was far from neutral: he was highly communal. These are snatches of what he told TEHELKA’s hidden camera in 2007.

‘During Partition, many Muslims of Godhra migrated to Pakistan… In fact, there is an area called Godhra Colony in Karachi… Every family in Godhra has a relative in Karachi… They are fundamentalists… This area, Signal Falia, was completely Hindu but gradually Muslims took over… In 1989 also there were riots… Eight Hindus were burnt alive… They all eat cow meat since it comes cheap… No family has less than ten children…’


Little wonder then that far from doing a fair job, Parmar bribed the pump attendants to change their testimonies.

His selection to assist the SIT gives us an indication of the “seriousness” Gujarat Government officers in the SIT were giving this probe.

Conclusions

  1. SIT was NOT a judicial commission probing all riot cases of Gujarat in 2002. It was an enquiry into some of the cases, flawed by the dominance of Gujarat Police officers-  the accused organisation themselves!. Supporters of Modi are giving it more importance and credibility than it deserves.
  2. Even the final report did acknowledge that several senior police officers had not done their duty properly. (all of them promoted by Mr Modi!) It couldn’t find any prosecutable evidence against Mr Modi himself.
  3. While it is being called a “clean chit by SC to Modi on Gujarat riots” by some, we forget that its remit was pretty limited and also that even on these, SIT may have erred on some points, and was not able to do much on others. For example, it could not cross examine Modi’s replies for any lies, ignored the Police Control room records that suggested a public funeral procession had indeed taken place, although falsely denied by the accused.
  4. We already have the likes of Babu Bajrangi and Maya Kodnani convicted. We haven’t seen the convictions and serious investigation on the VHP leaders like Jaideep Patel and Modi’s minister Zadaphia who were directing Bajrangi on the phone.

References

  1. A former judge explains why he moved out of Gujarat
  2. When Justice becomes the victim, a Stanford study on failures in providing justice
  3. “The Fiction of Fact-Finding: Modi and Godhra” by Manoj Mitta (Harper Collins)
  4. News Item on formation of SIT, The Hindu, 27 March 2008
  5. The Gulberg Society case timeline

 


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