Gujarat riots: SC junks Jafri's plea against clean chit to Modi, says appeal 'devoid of merit'

Zakia Jafri looks on during a press interaction outside a court in Ahmedabad on December 26, 2013, following a judgement in favour of then Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi over his role in 2002 religious riots. Photo: Sam Panthaky/AFP; Supreme Court of India, Photo: Shutterstock

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday upheld the Special Investigation Team's (SIT) clean chit to then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and 63 others in the 2002 riots in the state and dismissed a plea by slain Congress leader Ehsan Jafri's wife Zakia Jafri.

A bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar and comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and C T Ravikumar upheld the Special Metropolitan Magistrate's order rejecting Jafri's protest petition against the closure report filed by the SIT.

The top court upheld the Gujarat High Court order and said Jafri's plea is devoid of merit. She had alleged a larger conspiracy in the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Congress leader and former MP Ehsan Jafri was among the 68 people killed at Ahmedabad's Gulberg Society during violence on February 28, 2002, a day after the Godhra train burning. Zakia Jafri had challenged the SIT's clean chit to 64 people, including Modi who was Gujarat chief minister in 2002.

Detailed judgment in the matter will be uploaded later in the day. In December last year, the top court had reserved the verdict on Jafri's plea.

Zakia Jafri
Zakia Jafri looks on during a press interaction outside a court in Ahmedabad on December 26, 2013, following a judgement in favour of Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi over his role in 2002 religious riots. Photo: AFP

During the hearing, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the SIT, submitted that the top court should endorse the decision taken by the Gujarat High Court on Jafri's plea. He added that it will become an endless exercise, being pushed by some motives of social activist Teesta Setalvad – the second petitioner in the petition.

Concluding the arguments, Rohatgi submitted before the bench that nobody had "raised a finger" against it on the probe in the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Jafri challenged the 2017 Gujarat High Court order rejecting her plea against the SIT decision.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing the petitioners, cited work done by Setalvad's organisations and added that to paint somebody anti-Gujarat is unfair. Sibal said this is yet another occasion when the majesty of the law is being tested and he is not keen on targeting anybody and emphasized that it was SIT's task to find out who the offenders were, if any offence has been committed.

Riots break out in Gujarat following the burning of a coach of the Sabarmati Express was burnt in Godhra. File photo: Manorama Archives

He said the matter can be closed, if nobody did it and all this happened without anybody doing it, in the backdrop of the material before the court. "But if you feel that offences have been committed then who is responsible is a matter of investigation," Sibal said.

The SIT gave a clean chit to Modi and in 2017, the Gujarat High Court upheld the clean chit. Zakia Jafri moved the top court challenging the Gujarat High Court order.

Rohatgi had contended that allegations have become wilder over the years, and emphasized that SIT diligently investigated each and every allegation, made recommendations for prosecution of many who had earlier been left out. He had submitted that allegations about a larger conspiracy were found to be based on the statements of three tainted police officers – R B Sreekumar, Rahul Sharma and Sanjiv Bhat.

Gujarat CM Narendra Modi
Narendra Modi as Gujarat Chief Minister. File Photo

SIT's clean chit

In December 2010, the Supreme Court-appointed SIT had cleared Narendra Modi of the charge that he failed to discharge his constitutional duty to intervene swiftly to stop communal riots that engulfed Gujarat in 2002. Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat when the riots occurred.

SIT had found "no substantial incriminating evidence" against Narendra Modi who was accused by Zakia Jafri of deliberately letting the rioters run rampage.

Jafri's spouse, former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri was brutally killed by a mob of rioters at Gulbarg Society housing complex in Ahmedabad.

The SC had asked the SIT headed by former CBI director R K Raghavan to investigate Jafri's complaint. Subsequently, the probe team grilled Modi for hours.

Jafri's complaint had given details of how, as part of a plan, communal riots were allowed to go on in the state with the CM, cabinet ministers, police and bureaucracy abdicating their constitutional duty to protect life and property of citizens irrespective of their caste and religion.

Her charge against Modi read: "The constitutionally elected head of the state and responsible for fundamental rights, right to life and property of all citizens regardless of caste, community and gender, alleged to be architect of a criminal conspiracy to subvert constitutional governance and the rule of law; unleash unlawful and illegal practices during the mass carnage and thereafter protecting the accused who played direct as well as indirect role and abetted commission of the crime."

The S6 coach of Sabarmati Express Train burns near the Godhra Railway Station in Gujarat on February 27, 2002.

After investigating the complaint and related files, the SIT had to seek a direction from the apex court to a reluctant Gujarat government for handing over of all alleged "hate-speeches" in and around the time of riots. The SC had asked the government to hand over the documents sought by the SIT. The investigation also saw Modi being quizzed by sleuths over his role during the riots.

The SIT was set up earlier by the SC to look into the charge of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) that the state police inquiry into several key riot cases was shoddy and unreliable.

Jafri's complaint had identical charges against 15 cabinet ministers and MLAs. It said they, despite being under oath to defend and protect the lives and property of all citizens, allegedly used "political influence to prevent administration and the law and order machinery from carrying out their constitutionally bound duty to prevent violence and protect the citizens".

Apart from alleging grave dereliction of duty against Modi and 62 others including the collectors and SPs of every riot affected district, Jafri said there had been "deliberate attempts to scuttle most of the cases".

Congress MP Ehsan Jafri who was among the 69 people killed at Gulberg Society in Ahmedabad on February 28, 2002 following the burning of the Sabarmati Express coach in Godhra. Photo: Manorama Archive

24 convicted for Gulberg Society attack

In June 2016, a special SIT court had found 24 persons guilty in the gruesome killings of 69 people, including former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, at Gulberg Society in Ahmedabad on February 28, 2002. It had acquitted 36 others. 

Out of the 24, only 11 persons were found guilty of murder in the carnage that took place roughly four km away from Ahmedabad police commissioner’s office. Five of them were found guilty of lynching Jafri before other residents were burnt alive. Thirteen accused were convicted for lesser offences like rioting, arson, unlawful assembly, loot, trespass etc. for which the maximum punishment is 10 years’ jail.

This was the second biggest communal massacre of the 2002 riots after Naroda Patiya case in Ahmedabad where 97 were killed by mobs in retaliation to the killings of kar sevaks travelling in Sabarmati Express at Godhra station the previous day. 

(With PTI and IANS inputs)

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