Finish Babri case in 9 months, orders Supreme Court

A Bench led by Justice Rohinton Nariman extended the tenure of the Special Judge conducting the trial.

Updated - July 19, 2019 03:43 pm IST

Published - July 19, 2019 01:50 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Kar sevaks bring down the Babri Masjid in 1992. AFP

Kar sevaks bring down the Babri Masjid in 1992. AFP

The trial in the Babri Masjid demolition case, in which prominent BJP and Sangh Parivar leaders such as L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti are accused of criminal conspiracy, should be completed in nine months, the Supreme Court ordered on July 19.

A Bench led by Justice Rohinton Nariman extended the tenure of the Special Judge conducting the joint trial of two cases.

The judge, who was scheduled to retire on September 30, had sought more time to complete the trial.

On April 19, 2017, the apex court gave the judge two years to complete the trial after reviving the criminal conspiracy charge against the leaders in connection with the demolition of the 16th century mosque on December 6, 1992.

The court 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. It 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” in a 40-page judgment.

In 2017, the Supreme Court transferred the Rae Bareilly case, languishing in a magistrate court, to the CBI court in Lucknow for trial along with the Lucknow case, which is against “lakhs of unknown kar sevaks” and deals with the actual act of demolition and violence. It was being investigated by the CBI.

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

The apex court ordered the Lucknow CBI judge to hold day to day trial and pronounce the judgment in two years. It forbid his transfer and also adjournments. Any grievances, it said, should be directly addressed to it. The directions had to be complied in letter and in spirit, it cautioned.

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 charge sheet’s finding that both the criminal conspiracy by the 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 top court ordered the Lucknow court to frame 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 for three to five years. This would mean that they would be barred from contesting elections for six years after the completion of their sentence.

The judgment had snubbed Mr. Advani and Mr. Joshi for raising objections to the Supreme Court’s use of its formidable powers under Article 142 saying it would violate their fundamental rights. The court wondered how they are still worried 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 Nos.4 [Mr. Advani] and 5s [Mr. Joshi] fundamental rights should not be curtailed by any order passed under Article 142,” the court observed.

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

900 witnesses

The court had 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 the cases have a total of over 900 witnesses waiting to testify.

The court had ordered the CBI to ensure in future that the 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 arose, the trial court would record the reason for the adjournment and give a proximate date.

The top court had 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 into the existing case. The court clarified that witnesses who were already examined separately in both the Rae Bareilly and the Lucknow cases could be recalled and reexamined as under Section 217 (a) of the Cr.PC.

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