Often accused of inordinate delay in dispensing justice, the judiciary has once again proved its critics wrong.
After the June 2010 verdict of an Orissa court sentencing a BJP MLA to seven-year rigorous imprisonment for his involvement in the 2008 Kandhamal riots, the Godhra case is the second major communal riots case that has seen the light of the day.
If one deducts the period - November 21, 2003 to May 1, 2009 - during which the Supreme Court stayed the trial of Godhra and all other cases being probed by an SIT headed by former CBI director RK Raghavan, the actual time consumed in investigation and trial is just three-and-a-half-years. The verdict is a welcome departure from the past.
This becomes all the more important as a large number of witnesses - 253 - had to be examined and more than 1,500 documentary evidence had to be appreciated by the trial court. Otherwise, we all know what has happened to other major riots cases - Delhi to Bhagalpur and Meerut to Mumbai.This verdict is important for another reason as well.
The usual tactics applied by politicians to delay criminal trial by appointing a commission of inquiry was also attempted in this case. In fact, two commissions looked into the incident and keen observers of riots cases were not surprised that their findings were contrary to each other.
What helped the most was the appointment of an SIT that completed the probe quickly. It will be better if it's made mandatory in all communal riots cases to set up an SIT and hand over the trial to a fast-track court.
The UPA is in the process of framing the Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill. If these two provisions are added to the Bill, it will go a long way in ensuring timely justice to victims and punishment to culprits.
Delay in cases of this nature is fatal to rule of law as it erodes people's faith in the system leading to tendency to resort to vigilante justice.
The SC has already lifted the stay on trial of all major cases relating to the much-publicised 2002 post-Godhra riots.
Can we expect the same kind of alacrity to ensure that those who lost their dear ones finally get justice?