Babri Masjid demolition cases: special judge seeks six months’ time to finish trial

Babri Masjid in Ayodhya being demolished on December 6, 1992.  

The Supreme Court on July 15 asked the Uttar Pradesh government to suggest a way out after the sessions judge hearing the joint trial of the dual Babri Masjid demolition cases sought six months more to finish the case.

On April 19, 2017, the Supreme Court gave the trial judge two years to complete the trial after reviving the criminal conspiracy charge against BJP and Sangh Parivar leaders, including L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti, in connection with the demolition of the 16th century mosque on December 6, 1992.

The court had evoked the maxim — “Let justice be done though the heavens fall” — to flex its extraordinary constitutional powers under Article 142 of the Constitution to bring the cases to justice.

Now, the trial is yet to be completed and the sessions judge is due to retire on September 30. A Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi has scheduled a hearing on Friday.

In 2017, the top court extolled its “power, nay, the duty to do complete justice in a case when found necessary. In the present case, crimes which shake the secular fabric of the Constitution of India have allegedly been committed almost 25 years ago” on a 40-page judgment. It transferred the Rae Bareilly case, languishing in a magistrate court, to the CBI court in Lucknow for a joint trial. The court ordered the Lucknow CBI court judge to hold day to day trial and pronounce the judgment in two years. It forbade the transfer of the judge and also adjournments. Any grievances, the Bench said, should directly be addressed to the Supreme Court. Its directions had to be complied with in letter and in spirit, it cautioned.

The Rae Bareilly case accuses the BJP and Sangh Parivar leaders of having given speeches to promote enmity and threatened national integration.

The Lucknow case, investigated by the CBI, is against “lakhs of unknown kar sevaks” and deals with the actual act of demolition and violence. With the clubbing of the cases and revival of the conspiracy charge, the accused political leaders would be tried under the composite charge sheet filed by the CBI on October 5, 1993.

The Bench agreed with the CBI charge sheet’s finding in 1993 that both the criminal conspiracy by the political leaders and the actual demolition by kar sevaks were part of the “same transaction” and warranted a joint trial.

Besides Mr. Advani, Mr. Joshi and Ms. Bharti, the court had ordered the Lucknow Court to frame the conspiracy charge against Vinay Katiar, Sadhvi Ritambara, Vishnu Hari Dalmia, Champat Rai Bansal, Satish Pradhan, Dharam Das, Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, Mahamadleshwar Jagdish Muni, Ram Bilas Vadanti, Vaikunth Lal Sharma and Satish Chandra Nagar. All were named as accused in the 1993 CBI charge sheet.

If convicted, the accused would face punishment of three to five years. This would mean that they would be barred from contesting elections for the six years following the completion of their sentence.

The judgment snubbed Mr. Advani and Dr. Joshi for raising objections about how the Supreme Court’s use of its formidable powers under Article 142 would violate their fundamental rights. The court wondered how they still worry about their fundamental rights despite the fact that the Babri trials had remained stagnant for a quarter of a century without justice being delivered.

“Almost 25 years have gone and yet we are solemnly reminded that Respondent No. 4 [Mr. Advani] and 5 [Mr. Joshi) fundamental rights should not be curtailed by any order passed under Article 142,” the Supreme Court observed.

At the time, the court accused the conduct of the CBI over the years for not pursuing its efforts for a joint trial of the Rae Bareilly and Lucknow cases despite the fact that a single judge of the Allahabad High Court had upheld their composite charge sheet in a February 12, 2001 order.

900 witnesses

The court blamed the Uttar Pradesh government for refusing to cure a “technical defect”, which ultimately gave enough room for 21 accused persons, including Mr. Advani, to get a sessions court to drop proceedings against them on May 4, 2001. The Babri trials had largely remained frozen in time since 2001. Together, both cases have a total of over 900 witnesses waiting to testify.

The Supreme Court ordered the CBI to ensure in future that witnesses remained present whenever evidence was required to be taken during trial, so that adjournments were not sought for lack of witnesses. If an “impossible” situation arouse, the trial court would record the reason for the adjournment and give a proximate date.

It clarified that this would not be a de novo or fresh trial, which would entail fresh framing of charges, but only involve the joining of criminal conspiracy charge into the existing case. The court clarified that witnesses who were already examined separately in both the Rae Bareilly and Lucknow cases could be recalled and reexamined as under Section 217 (a) of the CrPC.

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Printable version | May 8, 2021 8:50:24 PM |

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