New Delhi: Attributing motives to the Supreme Court-appointed special investigation team (SIT) in the Gujarat riots cases is not proper, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday, while hearing a petition filed by Zakia Jafri challenging the clean chit given to 64 people in the larger conspiracy probe behind the 2002 riots.
One of the those given a clean chit is Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was the chief minister of Gujarat at the time. Jafri is the wife of slain Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, who was killed during the communal riots in the state in which the toll was over 1,000, according to government data.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing Zakia, accused the SIT of “collaborating” in the crime by either not acting on the evidence available before it, or refusing to probe deeper into the role of certain accused who were caught on tape confessing to their role in the brutal killings during the riots.
The bench headed by justice AM Khanwilkar took exception to these comments. “So far as your argument of collaboration of police and state officials is concerned, we can understand. But how can you say so about the SIT appointed by this court?” it asked.
The bench, which also comprised justices Dinesh Maheshwari and CT Ravikumar, added: “How can you attribute motive to the SIT which investigated the FIRs as ordered by this court? If we start entertaining this argument, it is a reflection on the SIT appointed by us. When they investigated those nine cases, you made no grievance, instead you appreciated them. Now you are attacking the manner of their investigation.”
In 2008, the SIT led by former Central Bureau of Investigation director RK Raghavan was formed by the Supreme Court to probe nine riot cases. In 2011, the top court directed the SIT to examine Jafri’s complaint made to the Gujarat police in June 2006, alleging a larger conspiracy. Finding no substance in the complaint, SIT filed a closure report before a Gujarat court in February 2012. Jafri appealed before the magistrate’s court and the Gujarat high court, and the matter finally reached the Supreme Court in 2018.
Sibal read out portions from documents running into 23,000 pages to contend that the SIT “collaborated” in saving the accused, and pointed out instances that he argued, indicated a “farce trial” and a “mockery of investigation” in the riots cases. “We made our grievance even then and based on our complaint before the Gujarat High Court, a public prosecutor was removed from the handling of the riots case trial. But the SIT was happy with him,” he said.
The bench responded that the term “collaboration” was pushing the issue too far. “We are attributing motive to the SIT that is appointed by this court. Instead, you can pitch your arguments by saying there was evidence which the SIT overlooked, or there was an error of judgment on its part. But don’t pitch it so high to attribute motives to it.”
The bench indicated that it will seek the response of SIT on all points raised by Sibal. “You (Sibal) have made a point. If it is correct, it has to be accepted or rejected based on the explanation to be provided by SIT,” the bench said, posting the matter for further hearing on Wednesday.
In an earlier hearing, SIT, represented by senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, told the court that all aspects of Jafri’s complaints were thoroughly investigated before coming to the conclusion that there was no reason to take the matter further and add to the existing number of accused facing trial in the riots cases.