Wednesday, February 20, 2008


21 Feb 2008, 0122 hrs IST, Manoj Mitta, TNN
NEW DELHI. The last time any strictures were passed on her was in 2003, when the Gujarat HC infamously upheld the acquittal of all the accused in the Best Bakery case.

The following year, the Supreme Court not only ordered a retrial in Mumbai but also expunged all adverse references to activist Teesta Setalvad in the HC verdict. So, why does the same Supreme Court now find an article of hers on Gujarat riots "shameful" and declare that it would not entertain the grievances of anybody associated with her?

The outburst of Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan on Tuesday is surprising given that the article titled, "Shame, shame: A travesty of justice," seems to be a legitimate critique of the Supreme Court for its handling of the bail applications of the 84 persons accused of the Godhra coach fire.

Published this month in Malayalam magazine Mathrubhoomi in CJI's home state Kerala, Setalvad's article gives the sequence of the excuses trotted out by the court over six hearings in the last one year for not being able to hear the bail applications of so many Godhra accused. This is despite the fact that most of the accused, as the article asserts, are "innocent" as they were picked up on the basis of "cooked up police witnesses" and one of them is a "100% blind boy."

Further, it is almost three years since the Central Pota Review Committee held that none of the alleged offences in the Godhra case warranted the invocation of the draconian law designed to deny bail. Though terror charges against MDMK leader Vaiko were dropped on the recommendation of the same panel, the courts have failed to follow that precedent in the Godhra case.

More seriously, Setalvad's article makes out a case of "discriminatory justice". While hundreds of Hindu accused in the post-Godhra riot cases are roaming free, the Muslim accused in the Godhra coach burning case have been languishing in jail for six years for want of a hearing of their bail applications.

"Can such a blatantly discriminatory scheme of dispensation of criminal justice win the faith of a community that is at the receiving end? Can no questions be asked about the system in operation in the Supreme Court? Which matters get automatic priority and which do not?" are some of the questions asked by Setalvad as a consumer of justice.

Justice Balakrishnan's attack on Setalvad without giving her an opportunity to defend herself is reminiscent of the very lapse of the Gujarat high court that the Supreme Court corrected in 2004.

"Observations should not be made by courts against persons or authorities unless they are essential or necessary for decision of the case," Justice Arijit Pasayat ruled, while deleting HC's strictures on Setalvad.

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