The confusion that reigned for the first few hours, on and fuelled by news television, after the Ahmedabad metropolitan magistrate’s order Wednesday Feb 15 afternoon on Zakia Jafri’s petition, would have been hilarious if the matter was not so sombre. Every reporter had a differing piece of information to offer, some contradictory; likewise, the lawyers for each side offered different interpretations of the order – from Jafri will get the already-controversial report of the Supreme Court appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) Report to Jafri will not be given a copy of the report.
It’s not as complicated as it appears. Jafri and her co-petitioners – activists Teesta Setalvad and lawyer Mukul Sinha – had filed separate applications in Magistrate M.S. Bhatt’s court on February 9, a day after the SIT had submitted its report in a sealed envelope. There were two sets of applications: one seeking to obtain copies of the SIT report and the other objecting to the manner in which SIT had filed its report which the applicants argued was “not in compliance” with the SC’s September 2011 order.
On Feb 15 afternoon, the magistrate upheld the second set of applications in which Jafri and her co-petitioners had argued that the SIT had not complied with paragraph 9 of the SC order. The key part of this says SIT must “forward its final report, along with the entire material collected by it” which means all documents, case papers, annexures, recorded statements, investigation papers and the report filed by amicus curiae Raju Ramachandran – which together run into thousands of pages. This allows the magistrate – and at a later stage the petitioner and public – to read the findings in the report against the material/evidence they are based upon.
The magistrate stated that once this is done, on or before March 15, the court will “act according to law”. Only when the report is submitted in full will the magistrate formally decide on Jafri’s application for a copy; Setalvad and Sinha are not entitled to get copies because they have no locus standi in the case, the magistrate stated. Jafri will have to wait for the SIT to comply and submit all the documents relevant to the Gulbarg Society massacre of February 28, 2002, where her husband and Congress MP Ehsan Jafri was killed with 57 others by a violent mob.
Significantly, this means the question is when, not if, Jafri will get a copy of the SIT report. And, the phrase “act according to law” strengthens her plea because, under section 173 (2) (ii) of the CrPC, Jafri should get a copy of the report. She is the original complainant in the case, right from the police station, in the lower courts, the Gujarat high court and later in the Supreme Court.
Though the SIT submitted its report in a sealed envelope, information that immediately leaked out suggested that Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi had been given “a clean chit” as “no prosecutable evidence” had been found against him. Jafri’s original complaint stated that Modi and 61 others be charge-sheeted for the Gulbarg Society massacre, one of the many areas attacked by raging mobs in the wake of the fire in two Sabarmati Express coaches, at Godhra railway station on February 27, 2002, that killed 59 people including kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya.
The magistrate today received another application from the petitioners seeking that he declare the contents of the SIT report, on the grounds that no document from an investigating agency can be termed confidential. The order on this application has been posted for February 29. If the order is in their favour, Jafri and others will know that day or thereafter if the SIT has, indeed, given a closure report – as widely speculated after the leaked contents – or recommended filing a charge-sheet and if so against whom, or sought time for further investigation.
Many in the legal community in Ahmedabad, not to mention sections of the BJP, are keen to amplify the strategic leak about the “clean chit” but has Modi really escaped being in the dock? In the Gulbarg Society massacre case, it will be prudent to wait for the magistrate to open the sealed envelope and make the report public. The focus on this case has eclipsed two other cases this month; Modi has been rapped twice in two weeks by the judiciary for the apathetic attitude shown by him and his government during and after the communal violence of 2002.
In a severe indictment of Modi, the Gujarat high court, last week, observed that the Gujarat government had failed during the 2002 violence and shown negligence in protecting citizens and religious structures. A petition filed in 2003 by Islamic Relief Committee seeking compensation for damaged religious structures had been opposed by the state, on the grounds that it had neither a policy nor an obligation to pay such compensation. The two-judge bench slammed this position; it said the state machinery had completely failed to anticipate communal disturbance and had subsequently floundered in containing the violence. “The state's inaction resulted in the damage,” the bench observed, and ordered the government to “repair and rehabilitate” nearly 600 damaged places of worship, majority of them mosques and dargahs.
In the second case, on Feb 15, even as the SIT report was fought over, the Gujarat high court served a contempt notice to Modi administration for not complying with its order of September 2011 to pay compensation to 56 petitioners whose shops in Rakhial area had been gutted in the 2002 violence. The Ahmedabad district collector has to file reply by March 14.
As Gujarat – and the nation – marks ten years of the horrific violence in Godhra and later across the state, and Modi completes his carefully-calibrated Sadbhavna mission in a bid to erase the 2002 blot, he finds the courts closing in on him and his government.