The Supreme Court of India on Friday dismissed a plea seeking a probe into the "larger conspiracy" related to the 2002 Gujarat riots that left over 1,000 people dead, saying it is devoid of merits.
A bench of justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari, and CT Ravikumar upheld a Gujarat court's order accepting a Special Investigation Team (SIT)'s closure report exonerating 64 people, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was then Gujarat chief minister, of the larger conspiracy.
In December, the bench reserved the verdict on Zakia Jafri and social activist Teesta Setalvad's plea challenging the report.
Jafri's husband, former Congress Member of Parliament Ehsan Jafri, was among the 69 people massacred at Ahmedabad's Gulbarga Society during the riots. In 2006, Zakia Jafri filed a complaint seeking a probe into 30 points, which she said established the larger conspiracy.
The bench said it cannot "countenance with the submission of the appellant [Zakia Jafri] on the infraction of rule of law regarding the investigation and the approach of the magistrate and the Gujarat high court in dealing with the final [closure] report". "We uphold the decision of the magistrate in accepting the report of February 8, 2012, and rejecting the protest petition."
The Supreme Court, which monitored the probe into the riot cases, directed the SIT in 2011 to examine the allegations. In February 2012, the SIT filed the closure report. The petitioners unsuccessfully challenged the report before a trial court and the Gujarat high court before moving the top court in 2018.
During the hearing in the top court, the petitioners said they do not wish to contest the closure report via a vis Modi as there was no "undisputed" material to show that the larger conspiracy emanated from a meeting he chaired in February 2002.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who represented the petitioners, argued the allegations against Modi were based on those former police officer Sanjiv Bhat, who claimed to be present at the meeting, levelled. SIT concluded Bhatt was not at the meeting and hence there was no other way to confirm the allegations.
Sibal linked the larger conspiracy to bureaucrats, politicians, public prosecutors, police, ruling Bharatiya Janata Party affiliates Vishva Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal, and other state functionaries. He cited Tehelka magazine's sting operation in which several people were caught on camera confessing to their acts of commission and omission during the riots, which SIT did not investigate as part of a larger conspiracy.
The SIT objected to the reopening of the larger conspiracy probe. It said any attempt to do so will affect trials in riot cases decided and impact appeals pending before the higher courts. SIT said it found the Tehelka sting to be unreliable after recording statements of 13 out of the 18 persons caught on the tapes.
SIT said the administration was overwhelmed and police were complacent and can be charged with dereliction of duty but there was nothing to establish a criminal conspiracy.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta accused the petitioners of attempting to malign the state while questioning Setalvad's credentials. He said Setalvad wants to keep the pot boiling by seeking further investigation, which will be a travesty of justice that should not be encouraged.