India: Supreme Court seeks details of Gujarat violence cases

The Supreme Court Wednesday put objections from the Gujarat government aside and sought details of 17 incidents of communal violence in 2002 to decide on the question of shifting of these cases for trial outside the state.
A bench comprising judges K.G. Balakrishnan, Lokeshwar Singh Panta and D.K. Jain passed this order on petitions filed by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Teesta Setalvad of the Citizens for Justice and Peace and some other NGOs.
The petitioners have sought reinvestigation of the cases by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and to shift their trial outside Gujarat as was done for the case related to the killing of 14 people in Vadodara, known as the Best Bakery case.

The 17 cases include four incidents in Godhra, a town 140 km from Gujarat's main city of Ahmedabad.

Other cases on the apex court's radar are related to the massacres at Gulbarg Society in Chamanpura of Ahmedabad, Naroda Patiya and Naroda village on the outskirts of the city, Sardarpura town in neighbouring Mehsana district, two incidents of violence in Panchamahals district, violence in Sesan of Banaskantha district and cases pertaining to Ode in Anand district.

The Supreme Court sought details of the 17 cases from amicus curiae Harish Salve.

The state government Wednesday filed an application strongly opposing the transfer of these cases at the instance of third parties.

It cited the judgement of the apex court in a case against Railway Minister Lalu Prasad in which it was held that "a PIL (public interest litigation) is totally foreign to pending criminal proceedings" and transfer of criminal trial could not be done through a PIL.

The state sought dismissal of the petitions stating that the trial could not proceed further because of the interim stay granted by the apex court.

Salve wanted the court to lay down proper guidelines on whether besides the complainants victims too could approach the court and seek transfer of a criminal case. He also wanted the court to address the issue of witness protection.

When counsel for the state government objected to this, the court said that the Gujarat violence cases were completely different wherein due procedure contemplated under the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.P.C.) was not followed by the government, false cases were registered and innocent people were arrayed as accused.

"This court is not powerless. When the criminal justice system and the administration of justice in a state is in peril, it can intervene in public interest," it observed.

While asking Salve to give a summary of the cases, the court also wanted him to give suggestions on the larger issues to be decided.

The matter was posted for further hearing on Feb 20, 2007.

22 November 2006