The Supreme Court has finally decided not to shift the major post-Godhra riots cases out of Gujarat. The verdict of a three-judge bench came six years after the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) moved court, apprehending the victims would not get justice in Gujarat.
One may or may not agree with the court’s decision not to shift the trial of the 2002 riots cases, but the exhaustive directions to ensure a fair trial keeping in view the rights of the victims, accused and witnesses can’t be faulted.
What remains unanswered is the delay on the part of the Supreme Court in deciding a case of this magnitude. Who knows it better that the Supreme Court that in the last seven years vital evidence would have been lost and many of the witnesses won over or even died.
A day-to-day trial after a lapse of seven long years cannot compensate for the loss of evidence and the agony of the victims and the accused. The Supreme Court itself has held in several cases that speedy trial is an important facet of the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution.
It is a welcome step to accord proper protection to witnesses. But the crucial question is: will they be able to recollect the incidents in a coherent manner so as to give cogent evidence that’ll take the trial to its logical conclusion.
“Already considerable delay has been caused. I hope prosecution evidence does not suffer due to enormous time loss. One does not know in what condition the witnesses would be,” former Chief Justice of India J.S. Verma said.
“It can only be hoped at least now the fast tract courts will live up to their name,” Justice Verma — who in his capacity as NHRC chief had indicted the Gujarat government for not carrying out proper relief and rehabilitation of riot victims — said.
Another issue is the court’s refusal to share the Special Investigation Team’s report with the NHRC, a petitioner in the case. The NHRC felt handicapped in assisting the court for want of access to the SIT report.
Terming it “unfortunate”, Justice Verma said, “The NHRC should have registered its protest.”
A fair trial is not just about conviction or acquittal; it is about restoring people’s faith in the justice delivery system. One can only hope that justice delayed is not justice denied in Gujarat riots cases.