Supreme Court dismisses Chhattisgarh govt.’s plea for panel examining more witnesses in Jheeram naxal attack

A bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan observed that the State government may have extended the tenure of the commission but its proceedings have closed. File   | Photo Credit: SANDEEP SAXENA

The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed the Chhattisgarh government’s plea against the Judicial Commission’s refusal to examine additional witnesses in the 2013 Jheeram Ghati naxal attack that killed 29 people, including leaders of the State Congress unit.

A bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan observed that the State government may have extended the tenure of the commission but its proceedings have closed.

“You wanted the expert witness to be examined but commission did not agree. You may have extended commission’s tenure but it has closed the proceedings,” said the bench, also comprising Justices RS Reddy and MR Shah.

The State government had challenged the orders of the Chhattisgarh High Court dismissing its plea seeking direction to the Special Judicial Enquiry Commission to examine the additional witnesses in the case.

On May 25, 2013, naxals had attacked a convoy of Congress leaders in Jheeram valley in Darbha area of Bastar district, killing 29 people, including then State Congress chief Nand Kumar Patel, former leader of opposition Mahendra Karma and former Union minister Vidyacharan Shukla.

Senior advocate AM Singhvi, who appeared for the Chhattisgarh government, along with State’s standing counsel Sumeer Sodhi told the bench that the incident had taken place in May 2013 after which the commission was constituted.

Mr Singhvi said a new government was formed in the State in December 2018 and till then, 67 witnesses were examined.

Additional terms of reference were given but for seven months nothing was done and no additional witnesses were examined, he said.

In October last year, two witnesses were examined but six other witnesses who were sought by officer in-charge or the State, were not examined, he said.

The bench observed that the commission said in September that it would not examine any new witnesses after October 1 last year.

Mr Singhvi said the State had filed an affidavit on September 30 in the matter.

“This is such an important incident, why cannot they examine five witnesses. This is not something cast on stone. They can very well do to find out the truth,” he said.

The bench said the commission has said that those, who want to be examined, shall file their affidavit but no one filed it.

How can they be examined, the bench said.

When Mr Singhvi said that State had filed affidavit, the bench said, That was not the order of commission, but it said that those who want to be examined shall file their affidavits .

The State government had last week told the apex court that the commission had rejected the request to record testimony of six crucial witnesses and closed the probe.

It had said the commission had even refused to summon BK Ponwar, director of Jungle Warfare Training School, Kanker for recording his evidence as expert and rejected the prayer of the State to examine him and closed the proceedings.

In its appeal, the State government had said that the high court bench at Bilaspur on January 29 had refused to interfere with a single judge order passed on December 12, 2019 which had dismissed the plea for examination of additional witnesses.

It had said that on October 11, 2019 the commission had rejected the prayer of State to examine more witnesses and closed the enquiry proceedings without examining the witnesses who are relevant for the purpose and objective with which the commission was constituted.

The State government had said that high court failed to observe the purpose and intent of constituting an inquiry commission under the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952.

The deadly ambush by heavily armed naxals had taken place when the political campaigning for the then assembly elections was on and Congress leaders were returning after taking part in a ‘Parivartan rally’ at Bastar district.

On May 28, 2013 considering the gravity and magnitude of the incident, the then Raman Singh led BJP government in the State had set up a special judicial enquiry commission headed by Justice Prashant Kumar Mishra, a sitting judge of the High Court, and it was to submit the report in three months on circumstances that led to the attack and other related issues.

The tenure of the commission was extended from time to time by the State government.

On January 7, 2019, the judicial panel recorded that 67 witnesses have been examined in the matter and closed its proceedings and directed the parties to submit their written synopsis.

On January 21, 2019, the newly elected Bhupesh Baghel government in the State extended the tenure of the commission till December 31, 2019 for submitting its report and referred eight more terms of reference in addition to nine given in 2013.

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Printable version | Oct 27, 2020 1:47:12 PM |

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