The Special Investigation Team (SIT) set up by Supreme Court to inquire into cases of communal violence during 2002 post-Godhra riots on Wednesday told the top court that it had not shielded anyone and rued that “uncharitable” remarks were being made against it.
“We were not shielding anybody,” senior advocate Mukul Rohtagi, appearing for the SIT, told a bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar.
Rohatgi was responding to charges by Zakia Jafri, wife of former Congress MP Ahsan Jafri, who was killed during the riots, accusing the SIT of bias and overlooking evidence.
Rohatgi pointed out that SC, while setting up the SIT on March 26, 2008, had said it will record the statement of any person who wanted to give it, and invited statements by issuing newspaper advertisements. Yet, he said, “uncharitable remarks (are being made) against SIT”.
His reference was to allegations by Jafri’s counsel, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, that the SIT had not recorded the testimony of several crucial witnesses.
“SIT examined 275 witnesses, did not leave any stone unturned,” Rohatgi said, and referred to the arrest and conviction of former Gujarat minister Mayaben Kodnani. “She was arrested and convicted and was in jail for a number of years. If the SIT was partisan, I dare say it would not have arrested a sitting cabinet minister.”
The bench, also comprising Justices Dinesh Maheswhwari and C T Ravikumar, is hearing Jafri’s appeal challenging the October 5, 2017 Gujarat High Court order upholding the Ahmedabad Metropolitan Magistrate Court’s decision to accept the SIT’s closure report, which gave a clean chit to then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and 63 others in riots-related cases.
Rohatgi also denied charges that there was any delay in calling the Army. “She (Jafri) says the Army was delayed. It’s an allegation against the state and Centre. It’s completely baseless. The fax went at 2 pm on February 28, 2002 and the Army was redeployed…. They came at night, were airlifted…”
On Sibal’s argument that SIT had not seized any cellphones during its probe, Rohatgi said, “(the contention is that) a mobile phone used in 2002, SIT should take it from them in 2010, 2011, 2012. Phones of that era were nascent — (they had) no WhatsApp, no camera. Who would keep a phone for 10 years?”
He also responded to claims that the SIT did not seize call data records (CDR) or Police Control Room records: “No company keeps CDR for nine years. Manual requires destruction of PCR records after five years.”
Jafri had contended that bodies of those killed in the Godhra train tragedy were handed over to a private person, Jaydeep Patel of VHP, and that the SIT did not probe this.
Rohatgi said the bodies identified were to be handed over to relatives, and those not identified were to be sent to Sola hospital in Ahmedabad. He said Jaydeep Patel was only to accompany them.
On the allegation that the SIT had not probed why two ministers went into the police control room in Ahmedabad during the riots, Rohatgi said it was investigated. “Based on this, SIT came to the conclusion that only one minister visited and he was sitting in a separate room.” He said it is a matter of practice that a minister goes to the control room and added that “presence of minister will only help morale of police, that he is not hiding in his house”.
Rohatgi pointed out that Jafri’s petition draws extensively on statements of former ADGP R B Sreekumar and said, “It appears that he turned against the government after he as superseded.”
“Testimony of Sreekumar is motivated. He clandestinely recorded conversations with the Home Secretary, etc…. He kept all this a closely guarded secret till he was superseded,” he told the court. “Why did it surface for the first time in 2005?”
On Sreekumar’s contention that curfew was not imposed on the fateful day to facilitate parading of the bodies of Godhra victims, Rohatgi said Sreekumar was posted as Additional DGP (Intelligence) “only from April 9, 2002 — two months after (the) riots. Before this, he was Additional DGP (Armed Unit)…. So he had no knowledge…he had nothing to do with the law and order issue.”
“(He was) posted much after the riots, (yet) he says curfew was not imposed to facilitate parading. How does he know,” Rohatgi wondered.
The senior counsel also said that although then Bhavnagar Superintendent of Police Rahul Sharma was named in the original complaint of Jafri, his name was missing from the appeal. “I submit that it is a deliberate omission,” he said. “Let me read the accusation. He is an IPS officer. Abetted breakdown of governance. Why is it missing? Because today Mr Sibal argues he is a hero.”
During his arguments, Sibal had said that Sharma in his statement to the Nanavati commission stated that mobile phones were used in a big way in the riots and asked, “here is a police officer saying mobile phones were used. Then why did you not seize the mobile phones? The call records were never investigated.”
Sharma, Sibal said, also narrated how political leaders approached him for bail of accused and contended that “this shows political interference”.
“Today he (Rahul Sharma) is their hero. They are saying he was targeted in 2011. Now, they are saying that he did the right thing,” Rohatgi said. He added that according to Jafri, Sharma was transferred as a matter of punishment.
Rohatgi said it is for the government to decide where a police officer’s services are needed. “He was transferred from Bhavnagar to Ahmedabad. Otherwise (if it was by way of punishment), he should have been transferred to some godforsaken place,” Rohatgi submitted.
The arguments remained inconclusive and will continue Thursday.