A day after it objected to accusations that the court-appointed SIT had collaborated with the accused, the Supreme Court Wednesday heard further submissions while hearing a petition challenging the clean chit to 64 persons﹘including then chief minister Narendra Modi﹘in a case of alleged criminal conspiracy linked to the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Zakia Jafri, the widow of Congress MLA Ehsan Jafri who was killed during the violence, had challenged the SIT report.
To corroborate his arguments on Wednesday, Zakia’s counsel Kapil Sibal pointed to a Tehelka sting operation, the testimony of the editor of the website called Face of Nation, and the alleged exchange of phone messages between the accused, politicians, bureaucrats and police.
The Tehelka tapes were corroborated by the CBI and the Gujarat high court, but the SIT did not consider them, he said. “In this sting operation you will find collaboration,” the lawyer said. “Obviously not all, but collaboration with the police, how plans were made, and arms were brought.”
The bench hearing the matter included Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and C T Ravikumar.
Accused in Tehelka tapes 'not interrogated by the SIT'
Pointing to “arms gathering, bombs manufacturing all over Gujarat” during the riots, Sibal cited the testimony of Dhaval Patel, the editor of Face of Nation. “Dhaval Patel speaks of dynamite accumulation,” Sibal said, adding that another accused Haresh Patel spoke about VHP member Rohit Zaveri “helping” him smuggle arms.
In the previous hearings, Sibal had said that one of the accused, Haresh Bhatt, had spoken about making bombs and killing “three to four Muslims in Baroda”. “Police just stood by. They supported us,” Sibal quoted Bhatt as saying. He said the SIT did not probe it.
On Wednesday, the lawyer said that Zaveri “corroborates” what Haresh Bhat said. “Even in separate interviews there is corroboration.”
Reading excerpts from the statement of another accused, Anil Patel, Sibal said, “Police here supported us.” “I am not saying this is proof but it is a matter of serious investigation,” the lawyer said.
Citing RSS and BJP member Dheeman Bhat’s testimony, Sibal said that there was a “secret meeting” held on the night of February 27, 2002. “Was this organised by a local leader? Yes...the direction came from the top,” Sibal quoted Dheeman as saying. “The question is why were these issues not investigated by SIT.”
The bench asked him if the testimonies were originally in Hindi or Gujarati since the accused hail from Gujarat. Sibal responded that all were in Hindi.
“Hindi copies...expressions might be different,” the bench remarked. “Was it on record?”
“SIT had it. I'll reconfirm it,” the lawyer responded.
Sibal then read BJP Vadodara unit member Deepak Shah’s statement to argue that meetings were held.
The lawyer cited statements by Arvind Pandeya, who represented the state government before the Nanavati Shah Commission. “I am saying all this to you so that you can write in your book on how easily people can fool the police...Half the mob engaged the police, the other half turned on the other side,” Sibal quoted.
Sibal said Pandeya had said that he advised government officials over the proceedings before the commission. “In the sting we showed that Pandeya admitted that he had threatened him (former DGP R B Sreekumar), and before the SIT he said he had not threatened him,” Sibal pointed out. “He said that the CD was tampered.”
Sibal asked why the SIT did not investigate this.
However, the bench said it has “noted that” but too much emphasis might not be given on this.
‘Seeing it in Tripura, Punjab, Delhi and other places’
Sibal said that on February 27, 2002, there were several messages warning the police of serious consequences but still no curfew was imposed.
Citing Gujarat Police’s manual on preventing violence, Sibal pointed out preventive measures that can be taken to avoid communal violence.
“We are seeing it in Tripura, Punjab, Delhi and many other places. The manual is only a printed word. Even the Constitution is in printed words...It is only this court that can give energy to that cold print,”he said.
Sibal also said a VHP leader, Jaydeep Patel, who was arrested in the Naroda Gam case, was officially given custody of the bodies of 54 people who had been killed in the Sabarmati train fire.
Sibal also read statements by an IPS officer at Bhavnagar. “Here is a police officer who is suspecting all this is happening, that the accused, police, bureaucrats and politicians are exchanging messages over mobile phones...these records were never analysed, never investigated.”
Sibal then questioned the manner in which the postmortem was being carried out at the railway yard.
The bench asked Sibal how this establishes a “larger conspiracy”.
“What's the relevance?”the bench asked. “For the past 20 minutes, you are focusing on the postmortem. What's the context of a larger conspiracy here?”
Sibal said that he would just respond in one line. “Who instructed it?” He said all these details would be clear from the call records and that the SIT should have investigated this.
The matter will be heard on Tuesday next week.
A weekly guide to the best of our stories from our editors and reporters. Note: Skip if you're a subscriber. All subscribers get a weekly, subscriber-only newsletter by default.