The bare facts relating to the court judgment on the Gulbarg Society killing of 2002 cannot be flattering for our criminal justice system. First, the delay of 14 years has been rather inordinate and traumatic for the victims and their kin. The Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) for probing the case had submitted its final report in February 2011. That this is a high-profile case is borne out by the fact that in this Narendra Modi as chief minister of Gujarat had been questioned by the SIT and given a clean chit. Next, of all the theatres of disturbance in Gujarat in February-March 2002, the Gulbarg killing, in which 69 persons, including former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, died, was the second-worst in terms of the number of people killed, next to Naroda Patia.
There are some other questions that need to be answered also. First, it was initially reported that a crowd of about 400 people, including Vishva Hindu Parishad workers, attacked the society. If just 24 people are convicted, it may be legitimately asked how many people were involved in the killing and how many had provided them support. And on the conviction list the name of just one VHP leader figures. It is inconceivable how such an act of killing could take place without the rioters being mobilised organisationally. That such mobilisation had taken place in Naroda Patia is proved by the fact that former minister Maya Kodnani had been convicted in the case. Also, the conviction number is astounding when seen in the light of the fact that in the Mehsana incident of March 1, 2002, when 33 people died, a special trial court had convicted 31 for murder and other charges. Second, it was in the Gulbarg case that the Supreme Court had asked the SIT to look into the doubts raised by amicus curiae Raju Ramchandran, who had visited Ahmedabad and met witnesses and others to prepare his report on the SIT’s report. In July 2011, Mr Ramchandran submitted his report, in which he differed from some of the SIT’s findings. The SC had then decided to keep the report confidential and did not allow the Gujarat government or the SIT to access it. What action was taken on it is not known till now.
There are lessons that can be drawn from this: First, it is important that the State prevents any riots of a communal nature and makes preventive arrests. Second, it should increase the number of courts and judicial officers, along with strengthening the police and training personnel in handling riot-like situations. Finally, there has to be a shorter timeframe for judicial proceedings.