The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed allegations of "larger conspiracy" levelled by Zakia Jafri, widow of Congress leader Ehsan Jafri who was killed in the 2002 Gujarat riots, against former Chief Minister Narendra Modi and over 60 senior state officials.
Inaction or failure of "some officials of one section of the State administration" cannot be the basis to infer a pre-planned criminal conspiracy by the State government, the court held.
The failure of certain officials cannot be inferred as a "State-sponsored crime (violence) against the minority community", the Supreme Court said.
Allegations of criminal conspiracy at the "highest level" cannot be inferred by simply linking the State's failures, it noted.
A conspiracy can be alleged only if there is clear proof of "meeting of minds" to commit a crime.
A three-judge Bench led by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar upheld the closure report filed by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) in Ms. Jafri's complaint in February 2012. The SIT had found no material evidence against Mr. Modi and the other higher-ups in the State. The Gujarat High Court too, in October 2017, had refused to entertain Ms. Jafri.
"No fault can be found with the approach of the SIT in submitting final report dated February 8, 2012, which is backed by firm logic, expositing analytical mind and dealing with all aspects objectively for discarding the allegations regarding larger criminal conspiracy (at the highest level) for causing and precipitating mass violence across the State against the minority community during the relevant period," Justice Khanwilkar, who authored the 452-page judgment for the Bench, observed.
The court observed that the SIT had operated under the strict scrutiny of the Supreme Court’s own amicus curiae.
Upholding the Gujarat Magistrate court’s decision to accept the SIT’s closure report which was a product of “indefatigable work”, the apex court said a breakdown of law and order in a State, even caused by inaction of the State officials, leading to spontaneous mass violence does not necessarily mean there was a conspiracy afoot.
“The breakdown of law-and-order situation in the State including attributable to the alleged inaction of the (State) duty holders, owing to spontaneous mass violence cannot be a safe measure to infer as being a part of the criminal conspiracy at the highest level of political dispensation unless there is clear evidence to so conclude regarding meeting of the minds of all concerned and their concerted efforts to commit or promote commission of such crime,” Justice Khanwilkar, accompanied by Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and C.T. Ravikumar, held.
In a snub to petitioners like Teesta Setalvad, who had fought the case on the behalf of Ms. Jafri for decades, the court said the “protagonists of quest for justice sitting in a comfortable environment in their air-conditioned office may succeed in connecting failures of the State administration at different levels during such horrendous situation, little knowing or even referring to the ground realities and the continual effort put in by the duty holders in controlling the spontaneous evolving situation unfolding aftermath mass violence across the State”.
The court said allegations were made against Mr. Modi and the others by Ms. Jafri solely on the basis of the “ultra-sensational revelation” projected by senior police officers R.B. Sreekumar, Sanjiv Bhatt, and Haren Pandya, a former Gujarat Minister who was killed in 2003, that certain utterances were made by the then Chief Minister and other senior officials in a meeting held on February 27, 2002 “to give vent to the Hindu anger on the minorities in the wake of the Godhra incident” in which kar sevaks travelling in Sabarmati Express train, returning from Ayodhya, were allegedly attacked and coaches of the train were set on fire at Godhra Railway Station. Fifty-nine people died in the incident. This incident preceded the riots in the state.
“The testimony of Sanjiv Bhatt, Haren Pandya and also of R.B. Sreekumar was only to sensationalise and politicise the matters in issue, although, replete with falsehood,” the court concluded.
“Besides exposing the falsity of the claims of these persons, the SIT has been able to collate materials indicative of the amount of hard work and planning of the State functionaries in their attempt to control the spontaneous evolving situation of mass violence across Gujarat,” the court observed.
It said despite several handicaps, including the inadequate state police force, the then Chief Minister had made repeated calls to maintain peace and was quick to seek replenishment of the police force with central forces and the Army.
The court said there was no failure of intelligence, causing the violence
“There is no material forthcoming to indicate that there was failure on the part of intelligence to collect information and it was a deliberate act on the part of the state government authorities,” Justice Khanwilkar found.
The court said accepting the argument of a larger conspiracy behind the riots would raise the question whether the Godhra train burning was also the “outcome of alleged larger criminal conspiracy”.
“Such a view would be preposterous,” Justice Khanwilkar observed.