Apex court lifts stay on Gujarat riot cases, bar Gulberg society

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

NEW DELHI - The Supreme Court Tuesday sought the Gujarat government’s response on a petition seeking change of the judge conducting the trial in 2002 Gulberg Society massacre case, while revoking its bar on pronouncement of verdicts in other cases of the 2002 Gujarat riots.

The plea to change the judge was filed by Zakia Jaffri, widow of former Congress MP Ehsan Jaffri who was murdered along with 68 others in the attack on the Gulberg Society during the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Continuing its stay on the trial in the Gulberg Society massacre case, the special bench of Justice D.K.Jain, Justice P.Sathasivam and Justice Aftab Alam, however, cleared the decks for pronouncement of the judgment in the Godhra train carnage case and said that the trial in other riot-related cases would continue till verdict were delivered.

The Speial Investigating Team has been asked to complete its investigation in the Gulberg Society massacre by next hearing of the case Dec 2.

The apex court May 6, while permitting the trial in nine Godhra and post-Godhra cases, restrained the trial courts from pronouncing any verdict till it decided on the allegation that investigators were not supporting the public prosecutors in the trial of the cases.

In response to the allegations, the apex court asked Deputy Inspector General of Police A.K.Malhotra, a member of R.K.Raghvan-headed Special Investigating Team (SIT), to look into the complaint by the petitioner, Teesta Setalvad, representing Citizens for Justice and Peace.

“DIG Malhotra has given us the report and we are satisfied and except for Gulberg Society case, the stay is vacated in all other cases,” said the bench.

In another related development, senior counsel Prashant Bhushan Tuesday recused himself as amicus curiae in the Gulberg Society case.

Prashant Bhushan was appointed amicus curiae by the apex court bench headed by Justice Arijit Pasayat (since retired) March 3, 2008.

He withdrew after the Gujarat government moved an application saying that he had expressed very strong views on the post-Godhra riots and their handling by the state government.

Bhushan told the court that he was a human right activist and has strong views on what happened during Gujarat riots and subsequently.

As amicus curiae, Bhushan had suggested that the Gulberg Society case required to be referred to the CBI.

The Gujarat government said that after holding such strong views, Bhushan “may not be suitable for rendering any effective, meaningful, objective and neutral assistance to the court”.

Justice Aftab Alam asked Bhushan if he could make distinction between his role as a human rights activist and a senior lawyer, then he could continue in his present role as amicus curiae.

Justice Jain said that being a mature person who can assess the position from all dimensions, it was for him to take the final call on the state government application seeking change of amicus curiae.

When Bhushan said that he had strong views and certainly had a way of looking at the things, the court said that for this reason, it wanted him to decide. “It is purely your decision,” the court told Bhushan.

At this, Bhushan said, “It would be safer that I don’t continue as amicus curiae in the matter”. The plea was recorded by the court.

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