An NGO had sought directions from the court to the Nanavati Commission to summon Mr Modi in connection with the 2002 riots.
In a relief to Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the Gujarat High Court on Wednesday rejected a petition of the Jan Sangharsh Manch seeking a direction to the G.T. Nanavati - Akshay Mehta judicial inquiry commission to summon him for questioning in connection with the 2002 communal riots.
A Division Bench comprising Justices Akil Kureshi and Sonia Gokani left it to the discretion of the commission and observed that under the Commission of Inquiries Act (CoIA), the probe panel was empowered to decide who were to be summoned for questioning.
The JSM, which represents the riot victims before the Nanavati-Mehta Commission, had moved the High Court after the commission virtually rejected its plea to summon Mr. Modi.
The commission, in its order, told JSM advocate Mukul Sinha that it did not find any justification in summoning Mr. Modi based on the evidence in its possession. It told Dr. Sinha it would examine all other witnesses before taking a final decision on summoning Mr. Modi. It had also informed the High Court in connection with the Manch petition that it had not taken a final decision on the issue of summoning Mr. Modi.
The Bench observed that under Section 8(C) of the CoIA, the Nanavati-Mehta Commission was empowered to decide on its procedure for it was a separate legal entity, and the High Court would not issue any directions to it.
In response, Dr. Sinha told media persons that the JSM would approach the Supreme Court against the court's decision. He pointed out that the State government itself had, in 2004, amended the terms of reference of the then Nanavati-Shah Commission, bringing under its purview the Chief Minister, his Council of Ministers as well as some political leaders and other organisations for examining their roles and conduct during the riots.
“When the State Cabinet headed by Mr. Modi itself wanted the Commission to examine their [the Cabinet's] conduct, there was no reason why the Commission should not summon the Chief Minister,” he said. Dr. Sinha said Mr. Modi alone could answer many of the questions that arose from the panel's investigations so far, for which the Manch wanted him to be summoned for questioning.
Dr. Sinha had moved the High Court in September 2009 after the Commission had declined to summon the Chief Minister as demanded by the JSM and had asked three personal assistants of Mr. Modi — Omprakash Singh, Sanjay Bhavsar and Tanmay Mehta — to file affidavits giving details of telephonic conversations with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders and some accused in the riot cases during the period. The three personal assistants did file the affidavits but disclosed nothing claiming loss of memory. The three mobile numbers found in the mobile call lists were held by the three personal assistants of Mr. Modi.
The 2009 petition, however, was rejected by Justice K.S. Jhaveri, following which the Manch filed the revision petition before the Division Bench. “It was absolutely necessary to summon the Chief Minister and other ministers and examine them. Otherwise, the entire amended terms of reference would get nullified,” Dr. Sinha said. According to him, the Division Bench had earlier observed that since the commission had so far allowed cross-examinations of over 60 witnesses, there was no reason why the Chief Minister should be exempted. Among the important personalities summoned and quizzed by the Commission were the then Minister of State for Home, Gordhan Jhadaphia, and the then Urban Development Minister I.K. Jadeja.
Appearing for the State government, advocate general Kamal Trivedi told the court the petition was not maintainable as under the CoIA, no third party could demand summoning or questioning of any particular person and only the Commission was empowered to decide whom to summon and question. He suggested that the court leave it to the Commission to decide whether to summon Mr. Modi or not and allow it to function under its own rules and procedures as per the Act.
The Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team, headed by the former CBI director, R.K. Raghavan, had in March 2010 summoned Mr. Modi for questioning in connection with the Zakia Jafri petition in the Supreme Court, accusing Mr. Modi and 62 others of involvement in the 2002 riots. The Chief Minister had responded to the summons and was questioned for close to 10 hours. What transpired in the questioning had not been made public but the SIT had submitted its report based it to the Supreme Court.