Delaying justice

Published : Jan 03, 2003 00:00 IST

The Central and Uttar Pradesh governments appear to be unwilling to act on the November 29 Supreme Court order stating that further proceedings in the Ayodhya demolition case be expedited in a Special Court in Rae Bareli.

APPARENTLY, administration of justice is an insignificant function of the government in the view of the present-day rulers in India. Otherwise, how else would one explain the delay in initiating prosecution proceedings against Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and Union Ministers Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharati, among others, in the Ayodhya demolition case, despite the November 29 ruling of the Supreme Court stating that cases against them be expedited in the Rae Bareli Special Court. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is still reading the "fine print" of the order and has failed to take any initiative to restart the case.

A senior CBI officer, who did not want to be identified, confessed that since the Ayodhya case was so "politically sensitive", it was unlikely the agency would initiate any proceedings against the accused "in a hurry". Moreover, the dropping of charges against 21 of the accused persons following the Allahabad High Court's order quashing the notification constituting a CBI Special Court for their prosecution in May last year has meant that over a decade of painstaking investigation has gone to waste. Over these 10 years, the CBI had prepared documents running into thousands of pages and recorded statements against a total of 49 accused persons.

Now that the constitution of the CBI Special Court has been held "invalid" because the notification to constitute it was "faulty", the entire procedure will have to be repeated, including those against the 49 accused in two separate cases relating to the demolition as the joint charge-sheet too has been rendered invalid.

The charge-sheet mentioned how Advani, Joshi and Uma Bharati gave speeches calling for the construction of a Ram temple after "removing the disputed structure" and warned against any obstruction in their way. "If a CBI Special Court, which is on a par with the High Court, took 10 years to make any progress in the case, one can well imagine what would be the fate of this Special Court in Rae Bareli to which the Supreme Court has entrusted the case. It is a District Magistrate's Court, and one can well imagine how it will move to prosecute the Deputy Prime Minister and other senior Ministers," said Dr. S.Q.R. Ilyas, convener and spokesman of the All India Muslim Personal law Board Committee on Babri Masjid. This feeling of despondency arises from the fact that after the CBI Special Court was constituted by the government in 1993, two cases relating to the demolition of the structure 197/1992, which pertained to the demolition of the Babri Masjid and assault on journalists, and 198/1992, which pertained to connivance in the conspiracy to demolish the shrine by giving provocative speeches from the dais, in which Advani and other leaders were accused were clubbed and a joint charge-sheet was filed.

The charge-sheet was based on thousands of pages of statements of eyewitnesses and official documents and other records. Now that the joint charge-sheet had become invalid, two separate charge-sheets would have to be filed, which would mean endless years of recording of evidence, statements and other documents. "The case is as good as closed," Ilyas said.

THE political class seems to share the same perception. In a guarded reaction, Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav, whose demands to prosecute those guilty in the Ayodhya case have arguably been the most vocal, said: "It is their government at the Centre with the CBI directly under them. One might as well forget about bringing the guilty to book, as long as this government is there". This view is shared by the Congress(I) as well.

The Supreme Court, in its November 29 order, said that the Uttar Pradesh government was right in not issuing a fresh notification for the setting up of a Special Court to facilitate prosecution of Advani, Joshi and Uma Bharati, as the prosecution could continue in the Rae Bareli Special Court if the prosecuting agency, the CBI, so desired. The controversy arose in February 2001, when the Allahabad High Court quashed a State government notification of October 1993 assigning the trial of the case against Advani, Joshi and Uma Bharti to a Special Court in Lucknow, which later ordered the framing of charges against them.

The High Court ruled that the notification for their trial issued by the State government was defective and improper since it was issued without the mandatory prior permission of the court. However, the court described the defect as being technical in nature and said that it was "curable". But, the then Rajnath Singh-headed Bharatiya Janata Party government refused to correct the technical flaw in the notification, allowing the CBI Special Court to drop charges against all the accused in the demolition case.

The CBI Special Court dropped proceedings against 13 more accused in May 2001, saying that they could be prosecuted only after the Uttar Pradesh government issued a fresh notification. Special Judge S.K. Shukla said that the proceedings were being dropped as a fresh notification had not been issued. Thus, prosecution proceedings against 21 accused persons were dropped. The matter came to the Supreme Court when a few social activists, including columnist Kuldip Nayyar, challenged the February 12 court order facilitating the dropping of charges against the 21 accused persons. The petitioners sought the apex court's direction to the State government saying that the accused persons should not be allowed to go scot-free on a "trifle technical ground".

On July 29 this year, the apex court ordered the Uttar Pradesh government to state whether it would issue a fresh notification in the case or not. In its reply dated September 28, the State government stated that there was no need to issue a fresh notification since the trial could proceed in the already existing Special Court at Rae Bareli if the CBI decided to do so.

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