Shoddy, Inept… Tainted?

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The SIT was supposed to probe Narendra Modi’s role in the 2002 massacre of Muslims in Gujarat. Instead, it hasn’t even questioned him, says  Shobhita Naithani

Sitting pretty Chief Raghavan heads a team beset with controversy
Photo: Trupti Patel

IN ROUGHLY two months from now, the special investigation team (SIT)— formed six years after two thousand Muslims were were hacked, burnt alive and raped during the month-long frenzy by Hindu mobs in February-March, 2002 — will submit its report to the Supreme Court. If one were to gauge existing sentiment on the ground in Gujarat, the reaction of justice-seekers, secularists and civil society will be in contrast to March 2008, when the SIT was formed. At that time, the SIT had instilled a fresh hope for the delivery of long-delayed justice because it had been constituted by an order from the country’s apex court.

The aim of the SIT was to get to the bottom of the anti-Muslim violence. That meant investigating the Chief Minister Narendra Modi, his cabinet colleagues, police officials and senior bureaucrats — at whose behest the entire massacre had been orchestrated. In its six-month-long investigation [see box] released in November 2007, TEHELKA had caught perpetrators on camera exposing Modi’s complicity in the riots, and admitting to a dishonest investigation by the police in the Godhra train burning and riot cases.

In April 2009 the SIT got its first reminder: probe deeper into the higher echelons of power, the Supreme Court had ordered, responding to a complaint. The SIT was given three months to probe Modi and his colleagues. Its chief, RK Raghavan, had promised a “thorough investigation”. A year later, they are yet to be questioned. The SIT, with the exception of former state minister Maya Kodnani, has not investigated the charge of state complicity and conspiracy which TEHELKA had earlier established.

 

The Supreme Court knocked the SIT for the second time last month when, in a damning directive, it ordered the SIT to file its response to allegations that it had withheld critical evidence in the probe into the role of state actors in the bloodbath. The court was responding to petitions filed by activist Teesta Setalvad which accused the SIT of grave lapses regarding the involvement of state actors in the riots; overlooking documentary evidence like phone call records of perpetrators and policemen; and a failure to produce police diary entries and control room registers.

The shadow of shame swelled further on February 26, when public prosecutors RK Shah and Naina Bhatt, appearing before the special court prosecuting the Gulbarg Society massacre case, sent their resignations to the SIT. The two cited “discomfiture with the functioning of both the SIT and the court” for quitting the probe. “If the SIT continues to function the way it is at present, the cause of justice which we are fighting for will perish,” is all Bhatt would say. But sources close to the two told us that their main grievance was that JM Suthar, the Deputy Superintendent of Police (Dy SP) and the Investigation Officer in the Gulbarg case was holding back critical documents. “There was no cooperation from the police or the SIT in making documents available,” the source added. “Witnesses were being forced to identify the accused from 30 metres. Is it possible to recognise someone from that distance?”

 

Sitting pretty Chief Raghavan heads a team beset with controversy
Photo: Trupti Patel

Over 70 people, including Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, were brutally killed in Gulbarg Society in the heart of Ahmedabad on February 28, 2002. The attackers were given a free hand for hours and Jafri’s frantic calls to the police and fellow politicians for help went unheeded. The SIT, Setalvad claims, has failed to produce both the logbooks of individual police officers assigned on duty and the station diary of the Meghaninagar police station, the jurisdiction under which Gulbarg falls. While the SIT has slapped murder charges against Dy SP KG Erda who was in charge of the area [He was promoted from senior inspector to Dy SP after the riots], it has failed to interrogate officers higher than Erda. “Is it possible for an inspector to do all this without the knowledge of his seniors?” asks RB Sreekumar, a retired IPS officer fighting for the cause of the victims. The answer is clear, yet the SIT is not investigating higher up the hierarchy.

Erda’s phone records, according to Setalvad, show that during the hours of the carnage on February 27 and 28, 2002, he had called the police control room, the Police Commissioner PC Pandey, Joint Commissioner MK Tandon and DCP PB Gondia. Despite that, the SIT gave a clean chit to Pandey in April 2009 — the same month that Supreme Court had asked the SIT to probe the role of Modi and his team.

The SIT ignored the fact that Babu Bajrangi, the Bajrang Dal leader who led the mobs in Ahmedabad’s Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gam, had told TEHELKA that Pandey had the corpses loaded onto trucks and jeeps and strewn around the city to reduce the death count at the above places. Pandey retired in March 2009 and is now the Chairman of the Gujarat government’s Police Housing Corporation.

Over a hundred helpless Muslims were butchered in Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gam during the riots. The SIT, Setalvad says, has not recorded the statements of 129 witnesses even though they clearly indict Inspector KK Mysorewala in the police firing on the Muslims. Babu Bajrangi and Suresh Langda, who were caught on TEHELKA’S spycam boasting about their killings, praised the police for its role in protecting the rioters. The SIT ignored even that. Mysorewala is now a Superintendent of Police, and Langda and Bajrangi are out on bail. The SIT has not moved for the cancellation of their bail.

[box]

MURDERERS, IN THEIR OWN WORDS*

‘HE [MODI] MADE EVERYTHING ALL RIGHT, OTHERWISE WHO WOULD HAVE HAD THE STRENGTH… IT WAS HIS HAND ALL THE WAY’
BABU BAJRANGI 
Bajrang Dal leader

‘HE HAD GIVEN US THREE DAYS…TO DO WHATEVER WE COULD. HE SAID HE WOULD NOT GIVE US TIME AFTER THAT’
HARESH BHATT 
Bajrang Dal leader

‘HE SAID OUR TRIBE WAS BLESSED… OUR MOTHERS WERE BLESSED [FOR BEARING US]’
SURESH RICHARD
Key accused in the Naroda Patiya massacre

‘IF HE WERE NOT A MINISTER, HE WOULD HAVE BURST BOMBS’
ARVIND PANDYA 
Government counsel in the Nanavati-Shah Commission

*From Tehelka’s Gujarat sting, 2007

[/box]

THE STORY of the other cases is no different, with witnesses “not being examined” and documents “not available”. “The SIT, either by design or accident, is not looking at the larger conspiracy behind the riots,” says Mukul Sinha, lawyer and convener of the Jan Sangharsh Manch. “It is limited by the fact that most of the investigating officers are from Gujarat and, therefore, lacking the will to investigate their own creed.”

The constitution of the of the fivemember SIT has been problematic since its inception. While chief Raghavan and former UP cadre IPS officer CV Satpathy head the organisation, the other three members — Geetha Johri, Shivanand Jha and Ashish Bhatia — were IPS officers from Gujarat. Barring Bhatia, the standing of the other two has been under a cloud. Jha was the Assistant Commissioner of Police, Ahmedabad, and in charge of the police control room on February 27 and 28, 2002. He should have been questioned by the SIT for both action and inaction on those fateful days. Instead, he is a member of the investigating team.

Johri, the state’s first woman IPS officer, was recently chided by the Supreme Court for “not carrying out the investigation in the right manner” in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case. All the officers in the nine cases that the SIT is probing are from the Gujarat police. The guarantee that they will cooperate with the investigation, needless to say, is doubtful. Raghavan when contacted declined to comment.

So will May 2010 offer a reason for civil society and sufferers to cheer? Or will it be, as Sreekumar puts it, “yet another exercise to shield those who designed, organised, mobilised and perpetrated the bloodbath of Muslims in Gujarat”. In 60 days time, we hope that Sreekumar is proven wrong.

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