Gujarat HC seeks clarification from riots panel



Ahmedabad: The Gujarat High Court on Wednesday asked the Nanavati Commission, probing the 2002 post-Godhra riots, to clarify by July 8 whether IPS officer Sanjeev Bhatt was summoned by the panel as a witness or not.

The direction was given by a Division Bench of Chief Justice SJ Mukhopadhaya and Justice JB Pardiwala while hearing a petition of Jamiat-Ulma-Ae-Hind (JUH), challenging a Commission order that rejected its plea opposing Bhatt's cross -examination by the State Government and other parties. On June 22, the probe panel had rejected the JUH plea, saying it was "devoid of merits".

Today when the matter came up for hearing, the Chief Justice asked the Government to find out from the Commission if they had called Bhatt, who was DCP (State Intelligence Bureau) in 2002, as a witness or not.

The court also refused to grant a stay, sought by the JUH, on proceedings of the Commission where cross-examination of Bhatt by the State Government was on.

JUH counsel KG Vakahria told the court that the panel itself had stated in its June 22 order that Bhatt, who has made serious allegations against Chief Minister Narendra Modi in connection with the riots, was not a witness.

The HC, however, said let them hear it from the Commission and scheduled the next hearing on July 8.

JUH, in its petition, had sought quashing of the riots inquiry panel's order rejecting their application challenging Bhatt's cross-examination, alleging it was contrary to the provisions of the Commission of Inquiry Act.

It contended that the Commission had seriously misunderstood and misconstrued its powers under Sections 4 and 5 of the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952, and "overstepped its limits and exceeded jurisdiction by engaging in a wrong interpretation of Section 8C of the Act".

Bhatt was summoned by the panel last month for questioning in connection with his affidavit in the Supreme Court where he had claimed that Modi, on the night of February 27, 2002 (the day when Sabaramti Express was torched near Godhra), had called a meeting where he instructed his officers to allow Hindus "to vent out their anger" during the clashes and he wanted Muslims to be "taught a lesson". According to JUH, Bhatt cannot be cross-examined as he was summoned under Section 5 (read with Section 4) of the Commission of Inquiry Act, which means he was called as an informant and not as a witness.

The IPS officer had been already cross-examined by the Commission, Jan Sangharsh Manch (an NGO representing some of the riot victims), Congress party and the Central Relief Committee (CRC).

PTI