With the Supreme Court on Wednesday saying it would examine whether there was “complete failure of justice” in dealing with those involved in the Mumbai riots that triggered the 1993 blasts, the spotlight is back on Shiv Sena MLC Madhukar Sarpotdar after nine years. As riots convulsed Mumbai, Sarpotdar, an MLA at the time, was caught with three guns in his possession on the night of January 11, 1993. He had a licence for one of them. The city was at the time a TADA-notified area, and it was a crime to have an unlicensed gun.
The Srikrishna Commission, set up to inquire into the riots, indicted 31 policemen and several politicians in a report it delivered in 1998. The Vilasrao Deshmukh government has not cracked down on any of them. “We’ll reopen the cases if any lapses are found in investigation. But the government will ask legal experts to examine these cases first,” Deshmukh said on Thursday.
Home Minister RR Patil, whose department will investigate alleged lapses if the Supreme Court so demands, told HT: “We have asked the law and judiciary departments to look into the issue of implementation of the report’s recommendations. The department will go through the action taken by the government over the recommendations and decide what needs to be done.”
The report says Sarpotdar was caught with a Smith&Wesson .32-calibre revolver, a .20-calibre Astra pistol and a .99-mm pistol. Two of the guns were unlicensed. Sarpotdar said he had them for self-defence, and it took the police two days to file a case against him. He was not booked under TADA. The state government did not oppose his bail application. When he appeared before the commission, he said he had not been served with a chargesheet till 1996. “I had a licence [for the .32-calibre pistol],” Sarpotdar told HT. “I was set free by the trial court.”
SK Bapat, police commissioner during the riots, said: “The carrying of arms violated provisions of the law, and a case was registered. The police followed due process. What happened after I handed over charge must be a matter of record. I cannot comment on that.”
When social activist Teesta Setalvad used the Right to Information Act to find out about action taken against politicians since 1998, it threw up blanks under three columns: status of chargesheet, acquittal and conviction. “This means the case against Sarpotdar appears to have been dropped by the Shiv Sena-BJP, and the present government made no attempt to re-open it,” she said.
With inputs from Sumana Ramanan, Presley Thomas and Chitrangada Choudhury