Wednesday, Jul 09, 2003
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By Manas Dasgupta
The team, which arrived here this morning from Ahmedabad to study the documents related to the case, was mobbed by delegations making contradictory representations, human rights activists demanding a reopening of the case and the relatives of the accused calling for honouring the judgment of the fast track court.
Talking to presspersons, the NHRC registrar and team leader, Ajit Bharihoke, said the team had come to Gujarat to collect "facts" and that it would submit its report "within a week".
A terse "no comment" was his reply to a question whether he favoured re-opening the case or why the NHRC did not intervene when witnesses were turning hostile during the trial in the fast track court.
During his stay in the city, the team called on the district judge, J.C. Upadhyaya, the Police Commissioner, Sudhir Sinha, and talked to the police officers who investigated the case as well as the Government pleader accused of playing a "partisan role" during the trial. A delegation of the People's Union of Civil Liberties, supporting the stand of the main complainant, Zahira Sheikh, urged the NHRC to reopen the case in a court outside Gujarat for a fair trial.
The residents of Hanuman Tekri, where the bakery was located, most of whom were relatives of the accused, alleged that all the 21 accused had been "wrongly implicated" in the case and demanded that the NHRC and the Government honour the verdict of the fast track court. Incidentally, all the accused, after acquittal, are said to have disappeared.
A delegation of lawyers, who had formed a "Jan Raksha Samiti", took exception to the NHRC's fresh inquiry into the case. Its convener, Avdhoot Suman, said that if the NHRC was keen on reopening the case, it should reopen many such cases since 1950, which were also criticised to be "miscarriage of justice".
Pointing out that it could set a wrong precedent, he said the court verdicts were given on the evidences and witnesses presented before it and not on any extraneous issues.
Some local Muslim leaders also submitted a memorandum to the team demanding the immediate arrest of Madhu Srivastava, BJP MLA from neighbouring Waghodia, and his brother and Congress member of the Vadodara municipal corporation, Chandrakant Srivastava, and the owner of a garage opposite the bakery, Lal Mohammad who was also a key witness but like Zahira he turned hostile, and some others.
Both the Srivastava brothers, whose respective constituencies include the Hanuman Tekri locality, however, have denied the charges against them. Claiming that he had no role in the case and that did not "escort" Zahira Sheikh the day she was give her testimony in the fast track court, Mr. Madhu Srivastava said he was being "unnecessarily maligned" and promised to move the Supreme Court to clear his name.
Mr. Chandrakant Srivastava, accused of providing "shelter" to the "now underground accused", claimed that instead of helping the accused, he was trying to ensure justice to the victims. He claimed that he was the first to report the fire in the bakery to the police and helped many of the members of the minority community escape. The BJP State Government, which has taken a dim view of the NHRC fact-finding mission, is yet to make up its mind on appealing to the higher court against the fast track court's judgment.
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