There is a larger conspiracy “orchestrated” by social activist Teesta Setalvad to defame Gujarat for almost two decades, the state government told the Supreme Court on Thursday while arguing on Zakia Jafri's petition relating to the 2002 riots there.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Gujarat, told a bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar that he has nothing to say against Zakia Jafri as she has lost her near and dear ones but there has to be a “limit of exploiting” the miseries of a widow.
Zakia Jafri, the wife of slain Congress leader Ehsan Jafri who was killed at Gulberg Society in Ahmedabad on February 28, 2002, during the violence, has challenged the SIT's clean chit to 64 people including Narendra Modi, the then Gujarat chief minister during the riots.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Special Investigation Team (SIT), argued in the top court that the allegations about a larger conspiracy during the riots is being “driven” by Setalvad who is the petitioner number two in the plea filed by Zakia Jafri in the apex court.
“My respectful submission is, that there is a larger conspiracy orchestrated by the petitioner number two (Teesta Setalvad) to defame one entire state for almost 20 years,” Mehta told the bench, also comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and C T Ravikumar.
“I have nothing against petitioner number one (Zakia Jafri), she is wounded, she has lost her near and dear ones. I can have nothing to say against her. But, and I am choosing my words very carefully, there has to be a limit of exploiting the miseries of a widow,” he said.
Mehta told the bench that the SIT had periodically filed status reports before the apex court and in the last one, it was “at pains” to point out that Setalvad was “tutoring witnesses, was preparing pre-typed computerised statements and sending them”.
“And it has remained my complaint from the beginning why the SIT did not prosecute her for fabricating false evidence. This is nothing but fabricating false evidence,” he said during the arguments, which would continue on December 7. Mehta said this is nothing but fabrication of evidence to involve “innocent persons” into the offence.
“What is the cause, what is the reason, what is the motivation, what is that larger conspiracy which compels them to still keep the pot boiling,” he said. Mehta also referred to the Gujarat High Court order passed in a separate matter in which allegation of misappropriation of funds received by the NGOs of Setalvad for the 2002 riot victims was levelled.
Rohatgi argued that a “quietus” must be given to all this to bring an end as there is nothing to substantiate the allegations of larger conspiracy during the riots and SIT had conducted thorough investigation on the complaint filed by Zakia Jafri in 2006. He said that allowing Zakia Jafri’s plea would lead to great injustice as there is no error in the orders passed by the courts below.
“I submit it is only being driven by petitioner number two (Setalvad). It is not being driven by this lady and it is evident from her statement that she said whatever petitioner two had told her,” Rohatgi said. He referred to the sequence and said the riots happened in 2002 while Zakia Jafri had filed a complaint in 2006 alleging larger conspiracy.
The bench observed that in the criminal justice, the accused also has a right of fair trial and finality of proceedings. “No one, who is accused of an offence, should go scot-free without a fair trial. At the same time, the accused also has a right of fair trial and finality of the proceedings,” the bench said.
Zakia Jafri's counsel had earlier argued that her complaint of 2006 was that there was “a larger conspiracy where there was bureaucratic inaction, police complicity, hate speeches and unleashing of violence". Ehsan Jafri, the former MP, was among the 68 people killed in the violence, a day after the Godhra train incident.
The S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express was burnt at Godhra killing 59 people and triggering riots in Gujarat in 2002. On February 8, 2012, the SIT had filed a closure report giving a clean chit to Modi, now the Prime Minister, and 63 others including senior government officials, saying there was "no prosecutable evidence" against them.
Zakia Jafri had filed a petition in the apex court in 2018 challenging the Gujarat High Court's October 5, 2017 order rejecting her plea against the SIT decision. The plea also maintained that after the SIT gave a clean chit in its closure report before a trial judge, Zakia Jafri filed a protest petition which was dismissed by the magistrate without considering "substantiated merits".
The high court in its October 2017 order had said the SIT probe was monitored by the Supreme Court. However, it partly allowed her petition as far as its demand for a further investigation was concerned saying she can approach an appropriate forum, including the magistrate's court, a division bench of the high court, or the Supreme Court seeking further investigation.