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Apex court pulls up Maharashtra government over Srikrishna
By M H Lakdawala

At the last hearing recently, the Supreme Court pulled up the Maharashtra government for the delay in initiating action against those indicted by the Justice Srikrishna Commission. The Apex court also took state government to task for double speak on the issue, following which the special task force (STF) was constituted. STF brief was to go over the Srikrishna report paragraph-by-paragraph and decide if cases may be made out against any policeman or if any politician may be booked.

The apex court asked the government to state when STF and departmental inquiry will be finished, when chargesheets will be filed and trials will commence against police personnel indicted by justice Srikrishna. Present a chart, the court said, on the status of the other riot cases. Explain exactly who has not received compensations.

If the court has to go so far to block further avenues for delay, that should have embarrassed the state government, but to no avail.

It’s nearly a decade and still no convictions have been obtained. Till now five constables have been suspended. The fact is that the policemen against whom cases have been filed are relatively junior. No action against the big fish has been taken. Prominent among those indicted by the commission was the then joint police commissioner R. D. Tyagi who had ordered a police firing on a group of Muslim students at a madrasa on Mohammed Ali road. Nine innocent lives were lost which includes Madrasa students and workers of Suleman Usman Bakery.

Tyagi was later promoted and even served as commissioner of police Mumbai, even though the commission's indictment of him is surprisingly explicit. According to the report, Tyagi, and police inspector Lahane of the special operation squad are guilty of excessive and unnecessary firing.

The Supreme court has asked the Democratic Front government to submit an affidavit detailing the action taken by the STF. The STF had reopened two cases against Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray as well as the Suleiman Bakery firing case against R.D. Tyagi.The Srikrishna commission report had not recommended any action against Thackeray while a government-appointed committee had exonerated Tyagi saying that he was merely doing his job.

The state government is totally silent on initiating steps to reopen over 1,358 criminal cases that the police had categorized as ‘true but undetected’ - a category used to classify crimes that have actually taken place but where the accused cannot be identified owing to lack of evidence. The human rights groups have contended that the Srikrishna report contains sufficient evidence to identify the accused in a number of these cases, and that the government should reopen them for fresh investigation on the basis of the facts gathered by the judge during his four and a half years enquiry.

They have argued that full compensation should now be paid to the relatives of those 500 people declared ‘missing’ (and now assumed dead). Apparently, they are still being made to run from pillar to post to obtain what should have been rightfully theirs according to the government's own orders.

The justice B. N. Srikrishna commission report is a vital documentary report. In a parallel with the truth, justice and reconciliation commission investigating the sins of apartheid in south Africa, stating the truth for the truth as it happened is the critical stepping stone towards attaining justice for riot victims.

Thus a full eight years after Bombay ‘was rocked’ by what Srikrishna later described as ‘riots and violence unprecedented in magnitude and ferocity, as though the forces of Satan were let loose, destroying all human values and civilized behaviour’, the wheels of justice continue to grind slowly, if at all.

One of the parameters to judge a civilized society is its impartial judiciary and application of law equally to one and all- no innocent be punished and none of the guilty howsoever high and mighty spared.

The family members of 1,500 people killed, 1,829 injured and 165 missing in the gruesome riots of December 1992, and January 1993 in Mumbai are denied Justice till this date.

The ruling Democratic government (DF) has filed the affidavit in compliance with the Supreme Court order of July 21, 2000. In the affidavit, the DF government has praised the Mumbai police for its ‘secular, impartial and free from bias character.’

This is in stark contrast to the Srikrishna Commission’s report, which had categorically stated that, the ‘Police are biased against the Muslims’ and had suggested that measures be taken for the ‘de- communalization for the police force.’

Justice Srikrishna has pointed out how the police response to Muslims' appeals was ‘cynical and utterly indifferent’. It says,’ on occasions the response was that they were unable to leave the appointed position others, the attitude was that one Muslim killed was one Muslim less.’ Muslims were given ‘harsh and brutal treatment sometimes bordering on inhuman (behavior). ‘Registered riot-related cases were ‘unsatisfactorily investigated’.

Inspite of these facts all recorded before the Srikrishna commission DF government dares to say that guilty policemen acted in line of the duty and are free of communal bias. In fact, the contamination of police is one factor that comes out whenever riots between Hindus and Muslims are analyzed.

Who will give Justice to the innocent victims? Politicians are busy settling scores and worrying about their own political career. Judiciary has its own limitation. Media though active over the commission inquiry has other interesting stories to report. The public in turn has become cynical of these commissions and their reports.

In the case of 1992-93 riots and Srikrishna Commission recommendations, however the citizens cannot afford to be cynical. The psych of the city after the riots had been ruptured. Mumbai till then a land of opportunity and amity between the different strata of the society, after the riots it turned to be a requiem for a voice of sanity and peaceful co-existence.

Of the Maharashtra Government logic of ‘let bygones be bygones’, Justice Srikrishna opines that, ‘By that Logic, you would have to scrap the entire criminal law. It’s based on the theory of retribution – identify the criminal and punish him. As a judge it’s my duty to see that the guilty are punished. If a judge says. ‘Let bygones be bygones’, he’s abdicating his responsibility.

British, Jurist Sir, Cyril Salmon, in a lecture on ‘Tribunals of inquiry’ had observed ‘in all countries certainly in those which enjoy freedom of speech and free press moments occur… causing a nation wide crisis of confidence in the integrity of public life. When it does, it is essential that public confidence should be restored, for without it no democracy can long survive…’ indisputably, the Mumbai riots of 1992-93 constituted such a moment.

Yet it needs to be re–emphasized that the enforcement of the law and due process is almost entirely depending upon the pressure of Public Opinion, because given half a chance, politicians and Policemen – who one can safely assume are guilty of dereliction of duty, if not worse – will scuttle or ignore the commission’s recommendations. It is for the people of this great country to build up enough pressure through peaceful means to ensure that justice is not only done but also seen to be done. Only justice can act as an anodyne for our fractured social fabric.

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