`Transfer Godhra case out of Gujarat'

MUMBAI, APRIL 24. Human rights activist and journalist Teesta Setalvad today demanded that the Godhra case, along with some others, be transferred outside Gujarat, so that investigations can be conducted in neutral conditions.

She told a public meeting organised by Insaaniyat, a group against communalism, that the Supreme Court's order in the Best Bakery case taught a judicial lesson. "You have to conduct a trial in an atmosphere of neutrality. The public prosecutors in Gujarat were members of the RSS and in Zaheera's case, he did not even meet her. Today, the minority in Gujarat is faced with a remorseless administration," said Ms. Setalvad who is part of Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP).

CJP was formed by concerned citizens from Mumbai and Ahmedabad to ensure justice for victims in Gujarat. It has held a Citizen's Tribunal into the events in Gujarat and published a report. While CJP and others had been demanding that the cases in Gujarat be transferred to the CBI, on February 18, P.C. Pandey, who was Commissioner of Ahmedabad during the riots and who had been criticised for his role, was appointed Additional Director of CBI, Ms. Setalvad said, adding that the appointment had been challenged. Gujarat was one instance where the rest of the country had chipped in to keep the issue alive, she remarked.

Several celebrities, including film star Aamir Khan, Govind Nihalani, Medha Patkar, Admiral Ramdas, Justice Suresh, director Tanuja Chandra and actor Rahul Bose supported today's meeting and endorsed a petition welcoming the Supreme Court's order.

The Supreme Court's order in the Best Bakery case in Gujarat was unprecedented and signalled a victory for civil society groups working in and outside Gujarat, and above all Zaheera Sheikh, said her lawyer, Mihir Desai.

Ordering a retrial and a re-investigation and transferring the case outside a State was a rare phenomenon, Mr. Desai said. The Supreme Court has also said that the public prosecutor will be appointed in consultation with the victims. The Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court will decide where the trial will be held and the travel expenses of the people will be initially borne by the Maharashtra Government and later reimbursed by the Gujarat Government.

While the Supreme Court's order was a cause to celebrate, Mr. Desai said, it must be remembered that five to seven petitions were filed in the Supreme Court two years ago, asking for the cases to be transferred to CBI, compensation to victims among other demands, but nothing was done.

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