Day 8 Oral HearingsZakia Jafri and Gujarat Riots SIT
On November 24th, a three-judge Bench comprising Justices Khanwilkar, Maheshwari and Ravikumar began hearing Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, on behalf of the SIT, on the 8th day of final hearings in a petition filed by Mrs. Zakia Jafri. Mrs. Jafri is the wife of Congress MP Mr. Ehsaan Jafri, who was killed by rioting mobs in the 2002 Gujarat riots. Today, Mr. Rohatgi mentioned that Mr. Jafri had provoked the mobs by firing shots at them, but quickly moved on , stating it was not relevant to his arguments.
Mr. Rohatgi argued that the SIT had effectively discharged the duty given to it by the Supreme Court to investigate the nine FIRs that had been filed in relation to the Gujarat riots. He submitted that in 2011, the Supreme Court referred Mrs. Jafri’s police complaint of ‘larger conspiracy’ to the SIT only to see if it contained ‘further evidence’ to support the Gulberg Society FIR. As such, the SIT only had to conduct a preliminary inquiry into the complaint. Mr. Rohatgi argued that the SIT had dealt with her complaint in far greater detail than is required under Section 178 (2) of the CrPC.
In contrast, Mr. Sibal has argued for seven hearings that Mrs. Jafri’s complaint is distinct from the Gulberg Society case, and that the Court had ordered the SIT to treat it as such. Mr. Rohatgi argued that if Mrs. Jafri wanted a separate FIR to be registered on her complaint, she should have followed the Gujarat High Court’s orders and filed a private complaint under Section 190 of the CrPC.
Inconsistencies in Mrs. Jafri’s Case Before Different Courts
Mr. Rohatgi argued that Mrs. Jafri’s original statement to the police was very different from her case before the High Court and the Supreme Court. He suggested that the substance of her complaint started to change when her co-petitioner, Ms. Teesta Setalvad, founder of the NGO ‘Citizens for Justice and Peace’, joined her before the Gujarat High Court.
Mr. Rohatgi submitted that some of the accused from Mrs. Jafri’s original complaint had become ‘heroes’ in Mr. Sibal’s arguments. Specifically, Mr. Rohatgi focused on IPS officer Rahul Sharma, one of the 63 accused in Mrs. Jafri’s complaint. He argued that Sharma’s name was ‘deliberately omitted’ in the copy of the complaint submitted to the Court. This allowed Mr. Sibal to invoke Sharma’s statement to the Nanavati Commission in support of Mrs. Jafri’s case. Mr. Rohatgi accused the petitioner of perjury, and stated that these proceedings must stop immediately if Mr. Sibal fails to provide a satisfactory explanation for the submission of ‘doctored’ documents.
Mr. Rohatgi characterized Mrs. Jafri’s protest petition as an ‘omnibus’ document, and stated that the volumes contained material that she had not presented to the SIT, or the police with her original conspiracy complaint. He said that Mr. Sibal’s insistence that the protest be treated as an FIR was misplaced. If Mrs. Jafri wanted to add material to her conspiracy complaint, she should have done so by filing a fresh complaint with the Gujarat police, as directed by the Gujarat High Court.
Jafri’s Arguments of Deliberate Omission by the SIT are Unfounded
Mr. Sibal had previously pointed out several instances of police inaction and political collusion that he alleged were deliberately overlooked by the SIT. Mr. Rohatgi discussed some of these instances to argue that the SIT had investigated them thoroughly.
Mr. Sibal had suggested that the SIT overlooked the handing over of the Godhra corpses to VHP leader Jaideep Patel, who had then allegedly incited mob violence by parading the bodies to Ahmedabad. Mr. Sibal had pointed out that the handing over of dead bodies to a private individual by the police is illegal. Mr. Rohatgi pointed to the SIT’s closure report to argue that even though the Mamlatdar accepted a letter asking for the bodies to be handed over to Patel, the deceased travelled from Godhra to Ahmedabad, where they were handed over to their families, in police escort. Jaideep Patel travelled with the police escort since he felt responsible for the many VHP sevaks who had died in the train. This information was a result of thorough investigation and witness statements collected by the SIT.
The Tehelka Tapes, containing extra-judicial confessions from 18 accused, formed one of Mr. Sibal’s most important arguments against the SIT. Mr. Rohatgi argued that the SIT had no doubt of the authenticity of the tapes, but had found that there was no material evidence to support the taped confessions. Despite this, the SIT handed over the tapes to trial courts hearing three of the nine riot cases. The tapes, Mr. Rohatgi argued, were not deliberately ignored by the SIT.
Mr. Sibal had also repeatedly alleged that two BJP ministers were in the police control room throughout the riots, and that the SIT had failed to investigate whether they influenced police actions while they were there. Mr. Rohatgi argued that the SIT had examined all relevant witnesses in the police control room (the two ministers and the station head), and concluded that the Ministers were only present to boost the morale of the officers. Mr. Sibal has previously argued relying solely on the accused ministers’ statements to dismiss such an important allegation was proof of bias within the SIT.
To counter the allegations of bias, Mr. Rohatgi pointed out that the SIT had filed chargesheets against and tried four accused- Maya Kodnani, Babu Bajrangi, Erda and Jaydeep Patel. Three of these chargesheets (excluding Erda’s) led to convictions at the trial court. He submitted that a biased SIT would not have led the conviction of a sitting BJP minister like Kodnani.
The Bench will continue to hear Mr. Rohatgi’s arguments tomorrow, November 25th 2021.