Babri Masjid: The story of crime # 197/1992

Lucknow: The 20th anniversary of Babri Masjid demolition is approaching, and there is a dearth of exact information as to how the cases pertaining to demolition have fared during these two decades. The focus of this piece is to reconcile the legal progress in the concerned issue. For record’s sake, it may be stated that the Babri Masjid demolition case stems from two cases: Crime No. 197/1992 and Crime No 198/1992. This piece is to get out the various nitty-gritty of the first case. To begin with, on the day of demolition of Babri Masjid, on Dec 6, 1992, a First Information Report (FIR)-197/1992 was lodged at 5:15 pm by Privambada Nath Shukla (50 years), Station Officer at Police Station (PS), Ramjanum Bhumi, Ayodhya, against lakhs of Karsevaks - names and addresses unknown - Under Section (U/S) 395 (dacoity), 397(dacoity or robbery with attempt to cause death), 332 (causing hurt to deter public servants), 337, 338 (grievous hurt), 295 (injuring or defiling a place of worship with intent to insult religion of any class, 297 (trespass in any place of worship) and 153-A of Indian Penal Code (IPC), which makes promoting enmity between different groups inter alia of religion, read with Section 7 Criminal Law Amendment Act. This eventually led to 49 FIRs being filed against 49 persons with respect to cognizable offences and one FIR relating to non-cognizable offence committed against mediapersons who were recording the demolition of the Babri Masjid and whose video cameras etc were snatched and broken/robbed by the Karsevaks.

On Dec 13, 1992, this case was entrusted for investigation to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Later Crime No. 198/1992 also was assigned to the CBI for investigation. Both the cases were obviously related, hence they were bunched together.

On Sept 8, 1993, the UP government, in consultation with the High Court, created a Special Court at Lucknow (also known as CBI Court), and on 9 Sept 1993, in consultation with HC, the state government referred Crime No. 197/1992 and 47 other cases to the Special Court headed by Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate (ACJM Ayodhya Prakaran) at Lucknow.

Now, since both the cases were under the ambit of CBI, hence it filed a consolidated chargesheet in Crime No. 198/1992, as well as against thirty-two others accused in Crime No. 197/1992 and in 47 other related cases.

By Aug 27, 1994, all the cases referred to above were committed by ACJM, Lucknow to the Lucknow Sessions Court. CBI also filed a supplementary chargesheet on Jan 11, 1996, in which it accused another nine persons who were later committed from ACJM, Lucknow to Lucknow Sessions Court on April 10, 1996. These nine persons were a part of the overall 49 accused. All this continued for yet another year and a half, until on Sep 9, 1997 ACJM Ayodhya Prakaran (Session Court), Lucknow charged the accused U/S 147, 153-A, 153-B, 295, 295-A, 505 read with 120-B (conspiracy) IPC. It would be interesting to note here that for the first time, in the history of the case, the conspiracy charge was leveled.

This order was challenged by the 33 accused at the Lucknow bench of Allahabad HC through Criminal Revision No. 199/1997 (Moreshwar Save vs. State of UP, 201/97 (Uma Bharti alias Gajra Singh vs. State of UP, 211/97 (RN Srivastata vs State of UP) and 255/97 (Ashok Singhal vs. State of UP) which led to Justice Jagdish Bhalla at the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High court say that the reference of Crime No. 198/1992 was not done in consultation with the HC, hence, the Session Court was not in a position to try the accused. This order, which came on Feb 12, 2001, derailed the entire prosecution process. The technical lacunae could have been easily cured but the political dispensation chose to look the other way. The whole prosecution process of nine years came to a naught, resulting in further impeding delay.

The fallout of Justice Bhalla’s order came to the rescue of the accused, as on May 4, 2001, the CBI Court, Lucknow ordered the proceedings to be dropped against 25 accused including the eight accused in the Crime No. 198/1992 alongwith 13 of Crime No. 197/1992, on the pretext that these persons were covered by Crime No. 198/1992 in respect whereof the CBI court has no jurisdiction. Thus, the first glimmer of reprieve to the prime accused was signaled but CBI chose to rise against the order and filed a Criminal Revision 217/2001 CBI vs. Balasahab Thackaray in June 2001. It took for itself a good seven years to reach to a point when the same Criminal Revision was decided and finally on May 20, 2009, Justice Askok Kumar Singh found it fit to be dismissed. Against the same order CBI has gone to the Supreme Court (SC). This happened largely due to the persistent demand of the All India Muslim Law Board (AIMPLB) and All India Babri Masjid Action Committee (AIBMAC) for the same. AIMPLB has been looking after the Babri Masjid cases since 1993. It is learnt that right now notices have been issued to the concerned persons.

“It can be no one’s guess that the CBI steps until today have been nothing but tardy. The prosecution agency’s tactics to delay the legal process has been its only hallmark. It does not at all seem to be either serious or concerned to bring the accused to justice,” said Mohammed Azam Khan, one of the pillars of the Babri Masjid campaign.

The last date when the issue was taken at the SC was on Oct 14, 2011, in which an objection had come that some of the accused have already died in between. “The CBI should have deleted their names but found it convenient not to do so,” Khan added.

“What genuinely is expected of CBI is that it should keenly pursue the case in the SC, as in case the application is allowed, it would begin the start of the trial in Lucknow, of those who have as yet got relief, which would definitely benefit the ends of justice, said Zafaryab Jilani. Jilani and Azam had been the co-convenors of BMAC. The trial at Lucknow has as yet examined 64th witnesses.

The long arm of law during all these years failed Ramchandar Paramhans, Vijayaya Raje Scindia and DB Rai who died during these long years. “Considering the snail’s pace of the legal process, it is unlikely to find any of the accused to be ever brought to justice, and even if that happened, an appeal in HC and later in SC would follow,” loathed Azam Khan.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 June 2012 on page no. 5

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