CBI appeal comes 9 months after High Court verdict, with plea for condoning delay.
The Supreme Court on Monday posted for final hearing on March 27 a CBI special leave petition against a judgment of the Allahabad High Court, which upheld the dropping of the conspiracy charge by a special court against BJP leaders L. K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti and 18 others in the Babri Masjid demolition case.
Senior counsel Ravi Shankar Prasad drew the court's attention to the fact that the appeal was time-barred. However, a Bench of Justices H.L. Dattu and C.K. Prasad said it would post the matter for final disposal.
'Just an incident'
When Additional Solicitor-General Vivek Tanka described the matter as the famous Babri Masjid demolition case, Justice Dattu retorted, “It is neither famous nor infamous, just an incident that had happened.”
The High Court had on May 20, 2010 upheld the special court's order of May 4, 2001 and dismissed the CBI's revision petition for a direction to proceed with the conspiracy charge against Mr. Advani and others. The CBI filed the appeal nearly nine months after the High Court verdict, with an application for condonation of the delay.
Mr. Advani and others, in their response, said the accused in crime no 198/1992 had already appeared before the special court, Rae Bareli, pleaded not guilty to the charges framed against them, and claimed trial. Already 12 witnesses were examined.
They said the entire exercise of the CBI in filing a consolidated charge sheet before the special court in Lucknow and challenging the proceedings up to the level of the Supreme Court was nothing but an abuse of the process of law. It also raised serious doubts about the bona fides of the CBI especially when the issue that the Lucknow special court had no jurisdiction to try the case had attained finality for, the special leave petition, the review petition and the curative petition had all been dismissed.
Mr. Advani said the trial court had rightly concluded that it had no jurisdiction to try the case, and therefore there was no illegality in the impugned order dropping the conspiracy charge. This order was rightly upheld by the High Court.
Mr. Advani and 20 others faced charges in two cases arising out of two separate First Information Reports. The first FIR, in which conspiracy was alleged against “lakhs of unknown kar sevaks,” was for the offence of demolition (case 197).
The second FIR specifically charged Mr. Advani and other leaders with making inflammatory speeches leading to the demolition, and this case (198) was tried in the special court in Rae Bareli. The two cases were later merged and handed over to the CBI, which filed a composite charge sheet on October 5, 1993.
However, due to a technical flaw, the two cases were revived by an order of the High Court on February 12, 2001. On May 4, 2001, the sessions judge dropped the conspiracy charge against Mr. Advani and others, on the ground that case 197 related only to kar sevaks. This ruling was upheld by the High Court last year.
Assailing this order of the High Court order, the CBI said the trial court had erroneously concluded that the three BJP leaders and 18 others should be tried in case 198 and not 197. This distinction was made on the ground that those against whom only instigation and allied offences were made out should be relegated to case 198. Those who had indulged in the actual demolition, along with the offences of snatching of cameras and assault on mediapersons, should be tried in case 197.The CBI contended that the bifurcation of the case attempted by the trial court and approved by the High Court was completely erroneous in law.