2002 riots: Minorities commission gives Bhatt another bite at apple
Much to the government’s dismay, the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) has initiated a fact-finding exercise of its own by taking cognisance of a private complaint filed by a victim of the 2002 riots.
With the Supreme Court appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) filing a closure report in its investigation against Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and others in the Gulberg Society case, the Gujarat Government would have hoped that it had almost got rid of the albatross around its neck.
While Citizens for Justice and Peace and Mrs Zakia Jafri, the widow of the late Ehsan Jafri, would be gearing for a round of appeals and protest petitions, it, at least, seemed that the process of fact-finding would come to an end. Even the Nanavati-Mehta commission, appointed under the Commissions of Inquiry Act to comprehensively investigate the 2002 riots in Gujarat, has, more or less, completed its fact-finding.
Much to the government’s dismay, the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) has initiated a fact-finding exercise of its own by taking cognisance of a private complaint filed by a victim of the 2002 riots. In blatantly ignoring its own rules, the NCM has issued notices to several anti-Modi IPS officers, including the Gujarat Government, despite the fact that the victim has already filed a petition in the same matter in the Gujarat High Court, thus making that matter sub-judice.
The complainant, Ms Niyazbibi Bannumiyan, has primarily stated that her family, which was escorted to a relief camp during the riots, has been unable to return to its village after a mob destroyed their home and looted their belongings. Also, the land owned by them has been sold off for an allegedly low price under distress. Even though Ms Bannumiyan identified those in the mob, as the NCM reports, the trial court let off the accused. She has appealed in the Gujarat High against this decision. Simultaneously, however, she approached the NCM reporting destruction of critical evidence (presumably in her case) and deprivation of the right of justice and fair play.
The NCM has agreed to conduct a “fuller examination” of the case, including summoning the then Inspector General Kuldeep Sharma as well as Rahul Sharma and RB Sreekumar. As it shall be recalled, these three officers have made several claims incriminating Modi which the SIT has considered, prior to submitting its closure report.
Notably, Sanjeev Bhatt, the IPS officer who has claimed that he was present at the law and order review meeting where Modi instructed officers to go soft on Hindus, submitted an independent application before the NCM. In that application, he alleged, among other things, that Ms Bannumiyan’s complaint was not an isolated incident and that the NCM must comprehensively consider the Gujarat Government’s complicity in the violence. Complaining that the Nanavati-Mehta commission did not entertain his request for access to documents from the Gujarat Police, Bhatt requested the NCM to use its powers under the NCM Act to requisition government records and documents which, according to him, have a “bearing on this matter”.
It would not require a legal expert to decipher how the scope of the matter has changed from a private complaint inviting NCM’s attention to injury to property, theft, forced sale of the land and inability to return to the personal agenda of Bhatt. That Bhatt’s claims and grievances have already been dealt with by the Supreme Court, the Nanavati-Mehta commission as well as the SIT seems irrelevant to the NCM. Despite Gujarat Government’s objection that such an exercise would undermine the ongoing legal process going on exactly as per the directives of the Supreme Court, the NCM has chosen to undertake a de novo fact-finding mission.
As pointed out in an earlier analysis on Firstpost, NCM’s actions in this matter are in blatant violation of its own rules. In less than twelve months alone, NCM has flatly refused to intervene in both complaints which concerned matters sub-judice.
In a complaint filed by Mr. Mohammad Khalid, an employee of Indian Railways alleging abuse by his senior “in communal language”, the NCM decided not to intervene as the very issue was under consideration in a civil suit for defamation filed by the petitioner.
In another instance, Mr. Parvinder Singh filed a complaint alleging discrimination by the Railway Board in grant of promotion pursuant to an exam conducted for a position in which he was, reportedly, the only qualified candidate. The NCM refused to intervene in this complaint upon knowing that Mr Singh had filed a petition in the Central Administrative Tribunal. Interestingly, discrimination on communal grounds was not even central to the relief asked by Mr Singh before the Tribunal.
Treating this complaint as an exception, and a pretty obvious one at that, the NCM is effectively signaling to the nation that it does not have trust in the Supreme Court, the SIT as well as the High Court in Gujarat which is hearing Ms. Bannumiyan’s petition. As stated earlier, when institutions disregard objectivity in their dealings, politicisation is an inevitable and dangerous consequence. The politicization will only further deepen from here on.
In taking Bhatt’s plea to significantly expand the scope of a private complaint which, incidentally, does not entail loss of life, the NCM has, to borrow a cricketing parlance, provided Bhatt a ‘free-hit’. That the NCM has violated its own rules in taking up a sub-judice matter notwithstanding, it will not be surprising if the situation Ms Bannumiyan and her family is in receives scant attention.
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