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U.P. Govt stalls Advani & Cos trial
By P.M. Damodaran, Lucknow

With the Uttar Pradesh government washing its hands of the notification controversy, there is a question mark on whether the special CBI court will ever resume the trial of the accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case. During the past couple of weeks, the state government and the Bharatiya Janata Party leaders have come out with their true colours to save the accused in the case, who included the three Union Ministers, L.K. Advani, Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi and Ms. Uma Bharati. The Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Rajnath Singh, who was earlier maintaining that his government would strictly go by the law, has now deviated from his statement. He recently stated that his government would not issue any fresh notification for the trial of the accused unless the court directed it to do so. He said that the government would only follow the directives of the court.

The controversy arose after the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court on February 12 this year set aside as improper and defective a notification for the trial of eight accused, including the three union ministers, in the demolition case. The court, however, observed that the defect was a curable one and the state government could issue a fresh notification after getting permission from the court to do so.

Later the special CBI court, trying the case, on 4 May dropped the criminal proceedings against 21 accused, including the eight persons, in view of the High Court order. The CBI court pointed out that all the 21 accused were facing chargesheet in the same case and it could not differentiate the eight persons from the 13 others.

The fact is case No. 198/92 was filed against eight Sangh Parivar leaders, including the three union ministers, on December 6, 1992 soon after the demolition of the Masjid for their alleged involvement in the act. The CBI later added nine more names to the list of accused, including late Vijayaraje Scindia, in the supplementary chargesheet, taking the total number of accused to 17.

Under the same case, the role of conspiracy was also assigned to five other persons, Shiv Sena chief, Bal Thackeray; Moreswar Save, Champat Rai Bansal, Satish Pradhan and the then U.P. Chief Minister, Kalyan Singh. The High Court had set aside the trial on the ground that the investigating agency had not received prior permission of the court before filing the supplementary chargesheet. The Special CBI court has, however, fixed June 12 for hearing the case filed against 26 kar sewaks under case No. 197/92.Before the Chief Minister made known his government's stand on the issue, the Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Hukum Singh, had clarified in the state Assembly that the government was nowhere in the picture in the controversy. According to him, it was for the CBI to move the court or not against the High Court judgement. It was, however, the president of the U.P. unit of the BJP, Kalraj Misra, who first openly stated that the government would not issue a fresh notification. Misra said that there was no need to issue a fresh notification as cases against all the 21 leaders were fabricated. He maintained that the government was free to use its discretion as there was no compulsion on it to do so.

The principal secretary and legal remembrance, NK Mehrotra, remarked that his department would not consider the earlier notification as faulty till such time a mention to this effect was made to it by the CBI. According to him his department will examine the issue only after the CBI found the earlier notification faulty and requested it to issue a fresh notification.

On the other hand, it was reported that soon after the High court had given its ruling on February 12, the CBI had urged the Department of Personal and Training (DoPT) of the central government to request the Uttar Pradesh government to issue a fresh notification. But the DoPT, which is under the overall charge of the prime minister, has not so far acted on the CBI request. Incidently, the functioning of the CBI is also under the direct jurisdiction of the prime minister. Interestingly the central government has so far refrained from making any comment on the issue.

As the things stand now, Advani and others need not worry on facing trial in the special CBI court. The governments at the centre and in the state are unlikely to take any action which is prejudicial to the interests of the BJP and its leaders. This will be in tune with the BJP's known stand that the cases against them were fabricated.

Advani and others may be able to escape from being tried in the special court if the government does not go ahead with the issuance of a fresh notification. But they may still be considered as accused both in the eyes of the law. Apparently to prevent any misconstruction of the ruling, the High Court, while setting aside the trial on 12 February, had offered a remedy too. The Uttar Pradesh government could issue a fresh notification for the trial as the court had set aside the prosecution simply on 'technical grounds'. Obviously this meant that they have not been let off because the charges against them were found baseless. In fact, the designated court in September 1997 had held that the evidence on record was prima facie sufficient to frame charges against all the accused.A bigger threat, however, lies ahead of Advani and others in the inquiry of the Liberhan Commission. Now the Commission is in the last stage of inquiry and many important witnesses came forward to testify before it during the past few months. Advani himself appeared before the Commission thrice during the past couple of months. He had faced a rough weather before the Commission while replying to searching questions. If the Commission comes up with a report showing prima facie evidence on the involvement of these leaders in the demolition, it will be tantamount to a stricture on the government for its failure to issue a fresh notification. There are, however, reports that efforts are being made by the interested parties to wind up the commission by not extending its term any more.

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