The legal course

Print edition : December 23, 2001
VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN

EVEN as the Hindutva combine is stepping up the pace of its next adventure, that of building the promised Ram temple at Ayodhya, the legal proceedings in the Babri Masjid demolition case are making slow progress. Two major inquiries were instituted after the December 6, 1992 event but neither has produced any result. While the Central Bureau of Investigation's (CBI) Special Court of Inquiry found mention in the media and in Parliament on account of the cases against Union Ministers L.K. Advani, Uma Bhar ti and Murli Manohar Joshi, the Judicial Commission of Inquiry headed by Justice M.S. Liberhan was largely ignored until it picked up momentum six months ago. The proceedings in the past seven years have been marked by legal filibustering.

The Special Court of Inquiry was set up by the Crime Branch of the Uttar Pradesh Police on December 9, 1992. The case was registered as Crime No.197, in which the accused include lakhs of kar sevaks, and Crime No. 198, in which leaders such as Advani, Jo shi and Uma Bharti are the accused. A December 8, 1992 order said that the court would function from Mata-ki-Tilla near Agra, where the main accused were lodged after their arrest on December 7 and 8.

By December 12, Crime No.197 was handed over to the CBI. The other cases remained with the Crime Branch. Nine months later, on August 26, Crime No.198 was also handed over to the CBI, leading to the initiation of a fresh investigation, which delayed the case further. Meanwhile, on February 27, 1993, the Crime Branch filed before a Special Judicial Magistrate the first set of charge-sheets, which included the names of Advani and Joshi. The filibustering reached a new high when the Special Court was first shifted from Mata-ki-Tilla to Rae Bareli on September 10, and five days later from Rae Bareli to Lucknow, for "operational" reasons. However, on October 5 the CBI filed a comprehensive charge-sheet in the case. But it took eight months to get a Sessions Judge committed to the Special Court. This was done on August 27, 1994.

The CBI got into the filibustering mode on September 1, 1994, with a request for permission to conduct further investigation when it had already filed a charge sheet. Two years later, on January 1, 1996, the CBI filed a fresh charge-sheet against nine ot her accused, including BJP leader Vijayaraje Scindia and Vishwa Hindu Parishad's Ramchandra Paramahans.

On September 9, 1997, the Special Court ordered the framing of charges against the 49 accused, but the very next day counsel for the 33 accused filed revision petitions. Thirty-five days later, the petitions were upheld and a stay order was issued with r egard to four accused. Since October 1997, the court has fixed 35 dates to hear the case, but the accused have failed to appear before it and hence charges have not been framed.

The Justice Liberhan Commission was notified to be set up on December 16, 1992. It was stipulated that the Commission complete the inquiry in three months. However, the hearings began only in March 1993. The Commission has summoned, until the first week of December, 83 witnesses (53 for the government, 14 for the defence and 16 for the Commission) despite its limitations, which include non-cooperation from the witnesses. By the look of things, the Commission and the Special Court both might have a long innings.

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