Faced with a tragedy like the Godhra train burning that had claimed 58 lives, how would a government and administration respond, and equally critically how would an independent agency appointed to fairly and rationally evaluate the quality of this response go about its job, asked senior advocate Mihir Desai for Mrs Zakia Jafri and Citizens for Justice and Peace making a powerful case for evaluating criminal culpability by top echelons of the police and administration.
Arguing for the fourteenth day in the 11th Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court, Ahmedabad, Desai pointed out that the only way an agency could have developed and evaluated whether or not the ingredients in a sinister chain of criminal conspiracy, abetment and criminal culpability by public officials was actually made out was in evaluating the government, administration and police response, before, during and after the outbreak of such systemic widespread and persistent mob violence. When five separate blasts shook Mumbai in 1993, the conspiratorial hands of a Tiger Memon or a Dawood Ibrahim could be seen behind each separate, similar and disparate act by just such an evaluation, he argued.
Could the government, administration and police have anticipated Godhra? Was there a systemic prelude or build up of communal atmosphere before the train burning? Once the incident took place was there an immediacy and seriousness in stemming any retaliation given the nature of communal violence and Gujarat’s history in this regard, were hate speeches and hate writings curtailed and prosecuted when they occurred or were generated or were they encouraged, were perpetrators punished? On the issue of deployment of the army, the issue to be assessed in terms of impact on the ground was threefold pressed Desai: was the Army actually called in on time, in which districts was it deployed and was it given adequate powers under the law (Sections 129/130 of the CRPC read with Rules of the Gujarat Police Manual) to function independently to save lives, property? Ironically, said Desai, the SIT just like it did not record statements of members of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and Election Commission, deliberately chose not to record the statements of independent witnesses Major Zameeruddin Shah of the 54th Infantry Division in charge of the Gujarat operation. Neither did the SIT seek independent data from the Army choosing in its all out bid to shield the accused, to believe the chief collaborators of the criminal conspiracy.
Reading from sections of the Protest Petition that had been filed by Mrs Jafri on April 15 this year, assisted by Citizens for Justice and Peace, Desai pointed out to the Court the ascending degrees of violence in at least 16 of Gujarat’s 26 districts; violence that started on the day of the Godhra train burning itself and continued until July-August September 2002. Ahmedabad, Panchmahals and Mehsana were the worst affected districts followed by Vadodara, Banaskantha, Dahod and Anand among others. Reading from the statement of then SP, Mehsana, Anupam Gahlot who appeared before the SIT on 22.1.2010, he showed the Court how this officer traversed the length and breath of the district to save lives of the Minorities, ensuring he was a hand’s on Policeman in Charge unlike the Commissioner of Police, Ahmedabad, PC Pande who sat mute spectator in his cabin at Shahibaug while Ahmedabad burned! Pande was rewarded for this by the chief conspirator, home minister A-1 Modi, retiring as Director General of Police (DGP) for the state; thereafter still benefitting from post retirement postings! On the other hand, Gahlot who had ensured the safety of over 1,000 persons taking shelter in a Dargah that was sought to be mob attacked was transferred along with other officers like Rahul Sharma from Bhavnagar district who had similarly done a worthy and upright job. These first round of transfers coming as they did around 24.3.2002 had also been objected to by then DGP K Chakravarthi.
Serious incidents of violence had taken place in Ahmedabad and rest of the state on 27.2.2002 itself with warnings of these coming in through the state intelligence (SIB) –all carefully documented in the protest petition, yet Pande and other senior officers like Shivanand Jha and others made a mockery of laws around preventive detention. Special schemes within the Gujarat Police Mannual and a Special Communal Riots Scheme (1997) demands that every commissionerate and district maintain not just a list of “communal goondas” who need to be arrested when there is threat of violence but also a list of fanatically minded persons who stoke the flames of communal violence. Yet in Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Sabarkantha, Vadodara, Panchmahals, Dahod, Banaskantha, Ahmedabad Rural, Vadodara Rural Patan and Kheda there was complete inaction in this regard. In Ahmedabad there were only 2 arrests made at Astodia on 27.2.2002 and that two of Muslims, Desai pointed out.
Over 47 Distress Messages from the Police Control Room made on 28.2.2002 to the Fire Brigade Urgently demanding help at a time when Naroda Patiya, Naroda Gaam and Gulberg Society were under systemic Mob attack were met with a sinister and conspiratorial silence, revealed Desai reading from two tables in the protest petition that detailed this evidence. Pande as Commissioner of Police is answerable for this lapse, yet SIT chose to completely ignore this evidence from their own record. No statements of any of the Fire Brigade officials have been recorded, nor any attempts made to unearth the Fire Brigade register and analyse this. Arguments will continue tomorrow.
Taizoon Khorakiwala Nandan Maluste Teesta Setalvad
Alyque Padamsee Anil Dharker Ghulam Pesh Imam
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