The Supreme Court on Monday hinted that it might revive the criminal conspiracy charges against 13 BJP and other Hindu right-wing leaders in the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition case that was dropped by the special trial court in Lucknow on technical grounds.
The indication came from a bench of justices PC Ghosh and RS Nariman hearing a petition by the CBI challenging the Allahabad high court’s decision to uphold the trial court discharge order favouring senior BJP leaders LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti and Kalyan Singh. They also include several VHP leaders.
“People cannot be discharged like this on technical ground,” the bench said.
The Supreme Court’s observations came ahead of the last phase of assembly polls in the state.
Singh, now the governor of Rajasthan, was the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh when the Mughal-era mosque was demolished at Ayodhya on December 6, 1992 by kar sevaks of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).
The Hindu right-wing says Lord Ram was born at the spot where the mosque stood.
“People cannot be discharged like this on technical ground.”
The SC bench also suggested to the CBI to club two cases pending in Rae Bareli and Lucknow, and added that the matter will be heard in Lucknow, which was opposed by the advocates representing the leaders.
CBI counsel additional solicitor general Neeraj Kishan Kaul accepted the court’s view and said: “We are fine with the suggestion. That is the reason why we appealed against the HC order.”
Senior advocate KK Venugopal, counsel for the leaders, argued that the CBI appeal was belated, to which the bench said it would condone the inordinate delay and let the trial continue in Lucknow. It hinted at allowing the agency to file a supplementary chargesheet invoking conspiracy charges against the leaders. The bench agreed to Venugopal’s request for a detailed hearing on March 22.
Venugopal said moving the trial to Lucknow would be against the interest of the accused because examination of evidence in the case was at an advanced stage. He said 183 witnesses would have to be recalled for cross-examination. The counsel argued that joining the two trials would lead to the beginning of proceedings afresh.
The demolition of Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992 had triggered communal riots across the country that killed hundreds of people. Two criminal cases were registered in its aftermath — while one was allotted to a Rae Bareli court, the second was referred to Lucknow.
However, the CBI filed a composite chargesheet in both the cases following which the state government had issued a notification transferring the Rae Bareli case to Lucknow. But in 2001, the Allahabad high court found fault with the notification that had been issued without consulting it. The notification was set aside, giving liberty to the state to rectify its mistake. However, the state did not take any action.
In May 2001, the special court in Lucknow dropped criminal charges against the 13 leaders on the ground there were two FIRs registered and the one pending before it under the criminal conspiracy section did not name them. The CBI rushed to the HC, which on May 20, 2010 upheld the order. Although the agency moved the top court in appeal, it was almost a year after the HC verdict.