Meena Menon

MUMBAI: A special court on Friday acquitted the former Shiv Sena Minister Gajanan Kirtikar and 19 others in a 1992-93 Mumbai riots case. It was alleged that they instigated violence after the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

Magistrate R.C. Bapat Sarkar acquitted them for want of evidence.

The prosecution produced eight witnesses, four of them Muslims, who were unable to identify the accused as the incidents occurred late at night, according to defence lawyer Jayprakash Bagoria. The complainant Abdul Aziz Qureshi is dead.

There was no case at all, Mr. Bagoria said, adding a station diary entry submitted in the court showed that Mr. Kirtikar (former Minister of State for Home) and others had come to submit a memorandum to the police.

Among those acquitted are Ravindra Waikar, Sena corporator, who is now chairperson of the standing committee in the city corporation; and Nandkumar Kale, former Sena MLA, who has now joined the Congress. The police filed a case against the 20 people accusing them of assault, rioting and damage to property on January 4, 1993. The charge sheet was filed in a court at Andheri.

According to the police, Mr. Kirtikar, now an MLA, and others gathered at the Bhavani chowk for taking out a procession to the Jogeshwari police station. On the way, the mob threw stones and damaged property at Chacha Nagar, a Muslim basti. A Special Investigation Team, formed in 2000 by the Congress government, filed a supplementary charge sheet. The accused faced charges of unlawful assembly, provoking riots and criminal intimidation. Mr. Kirtikar, Mr. Waikar, Mr. Kale and two others were arrested on June 6, 2001 and later released on bail.

Mr. Kirtikar was indicted by the Srikrishna Commission for his role in instigating the Jogeshwari riots with inflammatory speeches.

According to the commission, on January 4, 1993, a big mob led by Mr. Kirtikar, Ramesh More (who died later) and other Sena activists took out a morcha to the Jogeshwari police station, complaining of lack of security to Hindus. Some in the morcha attacked the Chacha Nagar Masjid and the Muslims in the vicinity and injured them.

The State government has set up special courts to try the riots cases. The court is trying nearly 150 cases. Only one case has resulted in conviction.