25 years on, Babri issue revived
The ghosts of the 25-year-old Babri masjid demolition case revisited the senior leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Wednesday with the Supreme Court allowing the CBI’s plea to restore criminal conspiracy charges against LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti among several others. They will now be jointly tried at a Lucknow court on a day-to-day basis. The court also set a period of two years for completion of the trial.
The decision has dashed LK Advani’s hope of emerging as a likely contender for the post of President of India.
The Bench of Justices Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Rohinton F Nariman felt that the demolition of the mosque was a crime that shook the secular fabric of the Indian Constitution. The Bench said that though 25 years had elapsed, it was unfortunate that the accused could not be brought to book.
The judges largely blamed the CBI for not pursuing prosecution of the alleged offenders. The court also slammed the Uttar Pradesh Government for not taking steps to rectify an error in its notification segregating the trial against top politicians and others.
The UP Government’s notification stated that eight accused including Advani, Joshi and Bharti were to be tried at a Raebareli court under FIR 198/92. The other accused, including the kar sevaks and some leaders of the BJP, Shiv Sena and Vishwa Hindu Parishad faced trial at a Lucknow court under FIR 197/92.
Passing a slew of directions to ensure that at least now the trial gets concluded within two years, the Bench directed the court of Additional Sessions Judge (Ayodhya matters) at Lucknow to proceed on a day-to-day basis. The court gave one month to frame an additional charge under Section 120-B (criminal conspiracy) against Advani, Joshi, Bharti, Vinay Katiyar, Sadhvi Rithambara, and Vishnu Hari Dalmia.
In addition, the apex court also directed revival of trial under Section 120-B and other additional charges under Indian Penal Code (IPC) against ten others, including former UP Chief Minister Kalyan Singh.
But since he currently holds the post of Governor of Rajasthan, he enjoys Constitutional immunity under Article 361. The Bench directed the CBI to frame charges against him “as soon as” he ceases to be Governor.
The proceedings against 21 accused, including the ones named above, were dropped by the Lucknow court on May 4, 2001. The Allahabad High Court on May 22, 2010 upheld the order. But the SC Bench set aside the two orders on the ground that the CBI had filed a consolidated charge sheet against all the 48 accused naming even the eight people being tried separately at Raebareli. For this reason, the Bench held that the trial court and HC committed errors by asking the CBI to separately file a charge sheet under IPC Section 120-B against the 21 accused.
It was the CBI that had file an appeal in the SC against the 2010 HC order and prayed for revival of criminal conspiracy charges against all the accused. The CBI relied on another order passed by the Allahabad HC on February 12, 2001 which held that prima facie offences of criminal conspiracy were proved against all the accused.
Advani, Joshi, Bharti and five others faced offences under IPC Sections 153A (promoting enmity), 153B (assertions prejudicial to national integration) and 505 (statements creating ill-will and hatred between classes). This, the CBI cured by filing a supplementary charge sheet before the Raebareli court. But one defect still remained to be cured as the State Government failed to obtain concurrence of the HC before issuing a notification on October 8, 1993 adding FIR 198/92 to the list of other cases being tried at Lucknow.
Senior advocate KK Venugopal appearing for Advani and Joshi argued that the trial at Raebareli could not be shifted at this belated stage to Lucknow, He contended that the February 12, 2001 HC order striking down the October 8, 1993 notification was upheld by the SC. The court had dismissed the review and curative petitions in this regard.
Despite these orders, the Bench on Wednesday declared, “The evidence for all these offences is almost the same and these offences, therefore, cannot be separated from each other, irrespective of the fact that 49 different FIRs were lodged.”
In addition, the court directed that till completion of trial, the judge hearing the case shall not be transferred. The SC also ordered the trial court judge will not grant adjournment except where it is unavoidable.
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