The bare facts relating to the court judgment on the Gulberg 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 disturbances in Gujarat in February-March 2002, the Gulberg 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. Finally this judgment has come after all the cases of the Gujarat riots barring one have been disposed of by various courts.
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 Gulbarga 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 Supreme Court 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.
The wheels of justice will not stop here, in the same way that they did not stop in all other cases relating to Gujarat 2002. In the Godhara train-burning case, in which 59 kar sevaks died, 11 of the accused were sentenced to death, but the matter has gone up to the higher courts. The same is likely to happen in this case also, which means waiting for some more years. 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 as and when required. Second, a broader point, it should increase the number of courts and judicial officers, along with strengthening the police and training the personnel in handling riot-like situations. Finally, in such cases where there has been such destruction and loss of life, there has to be a shorter timeframe for judicial proceedings.