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Gujarat takes moral low-ground in Akshardham case, quotes lower court verdict in SC

Rathin Das | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:49 IST
What happened
  • SC had acquitted six people in the 2002 Akshardham case
  • The six were to be compensated for spending 11 years in prison
The problem
  • The Gujarat government has no plans of compensating the six
  • They even quoted the POTA court, state HC verdict in SC to not follow the order
More in the story
  • What is the state\'s problem?
  • What do lawyers have to say about this?

The state of Gujarat recently witnessed a unique case of being legally correct, but morally wrong.

The Gujarat government, adamant about not paying any compensation to those who were acquitted by the Supreme Court for their presumed role in the September 2002 attack on the Akshardham in Gandhinagar, quoted the over-ruled lower courts' verdict in the apex court.

Those granted compensation by the apex court had been wrongfully confined to prison for eleven years.

Mufti Abdul Qayyum Mansuri, the alleged prime conspirator of the attack, and three others were sentenced to death while two others were awarded life imprisonment by the Prevention of Terrorist Activities (POTA) Court in Ahmedabad .

The convictions were later confirmed by the Gujarat High Court.

But, their convictions and sentences were set aside by the Supreme Court through its verdict which, ironically, came on 16 May, 2014, the day then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi received the mandate to become prime minister.

The acquittal of Mansuri and five others was as significant as the landslide victory for Modi. However, the apex court's verdict did not receive as much coverage as the much hyped 'sub-continental' shift in 'global' politics.

Story so far

It is not that Mansuri and his other 'accomplices' were acquitted by the Supreme Court on a mere benefit of doubt regarding the evidence's veracity, but the apex court had also passed serious strictures against the prosecution of wrongfully indicting the 'accused' of the Akshardham attack case.

The attack on Akshardham had aggravated the communal polarisation that already prevailed in Gujarat since the Godhra train inferno and the infamous riots thereafter.

But, despite strictures being passed by the apex court about the wrongful arrest and long imprisonment of the six accused in the Akshardham case, the Gujarat government's Home Department is now showing the audacity of opposing their plea for compensation for the ordeal suffered.

What's the Gujarat government's problem?

The state government has contended in the Supreme Court that the six acquitted are not entitled to any compensation as the two lower courts in Gujarat - the POTA Court and the High Court - had convicted them after careful scrutiny of charges against them.

There is no legal clarity whether upholding a lower court's order despite it being reversed by the apex court amounts to a case of 'contempt of court' or not, but lawyers and human rights activists are unanimous on the fact that the Gujarat government is definitely in the wrong.

Lawyer speak

"Those finally acquitted by the Supreme Court are legally entitled to compensation due to the mental agony suffered all these years," said Amrish Patel, a human rights lawyer of the Jan Sangharsh Manch which espouses the causes of victims of riots, caste discrimination and administrative apathy.

Whether the acquittals are due to lack of evidence or benefit of doubt, it is the discretion of the court to grant compensation or not, argues Patel while dismissing the Gujarat government's claim that conviction by the lower courts is sufficient reason for denying it.

Failure of the prosecution to prove charges due to improper investigation is not their fault and that cannot be a reason to deny compensation to them, Patel added.

"Once the Supreme Court has pronounced its verdict, the rulings of all lower courts become null & void," said Samshad Khan Pathan, another lawyer and human rights activist.

The Gujarat Government is not just morally wrong to quote the lower court verdict to deny compensation, but it is legally wrong as well as the lower courts' verdicts are now null & void, explained Samshad Khan Pathan.

For the people

Gujarat chapter of the People's Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) too is of the opinion that the six acquitted in the Akshardham attack case deserve compensation for the wrongful confinement.

"Gujarat government is absolutely wrong, both morally and legally, in opposing the payment of compensation to them," PUCL (Guj) general secretary Gautam Thaker told Catch on Saturday.

He said that it was not just the acquittal of the accused, but the apex court had also passed strictures against the prosecution for wrongfully picking them up and keeping them behind bars for eleven years.

The PUCL had long been demanding compensations for all wrongful arrests under POTA and earlier TADA cases, Thaker said pointing to several illegal arrests under those draconian laws, only to be finally acquitted by the courts.

Though the PUCL has not approached the courts demanding compensations to victims of wrongful incarceration, it has sent numerous appeals to Governors and tribunals about the need for compensation to victims of TADA and POTA arrests, informed Thaker.

Cop bully

The Gujarat government attitude towards the acquitted follows a trend set by the state's infamous 'encounter' cop former DIG DG Vanzara who had been bullying the Mansuri for writing his memoirs about the torture he had undergone in jail.

Also read: The cruel mile: the horror of being on death row in India

Not only that Vanzara had slapped a defamation case against Mansuri for writing the tales of his torture in jail, the Gujarat Police had gone out of its way to stall the public launch of his autobiographical book recalling his days as an under-trial of the Akshardham attack case.

An event for felicitation of the lawyers who argued Mansuri's case right up to the Supreme Court also had to be called off under pressure from local police led by Vanzara's niece Manjeeta Vanzara, Assistant Commissioner of Police in the city.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

Also Read: Will BJP bite the bullet on inducting trigger happy DG Vanzara?

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First published: 3 July 2016, 6:12 IST