This Case Analysis on Zakia Ahsan Jafri Case is written by Veerpal Kaur, a 5th-year BA.LLB student at School of Law, LPU.
On June 26, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal filed by Zakia Jafri against the order of the Gujarat High Court, challenging the rejection of the protest petition filed against the Special Investigation Team’s final report on allegations of a “larger conspiracy at the highest level” in Gujarat riots case.
The main issues before the Supreme Court were whether the SIT was correct in filing its final report recommending closure and whether the Magistrate was correct in rejecting the protest petition filed by the appellant against the report.
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 912/2022
(arising out of SLP(Crl.) No……………………………………….. /2022
@ Diary No. 34207/2018)
ZAKIA AHSAN JAFRI
Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and C.T. Ravikumar
The petitioner, Zakia Jafri, is the wife of Congress MP Ehsaan Jafri who was one of those killed at Gulberg Society in February 2002, in the pogrom following the Godhra deaths. In June 2006, Mrs. Jafri filed a police complaint against 63 persons, including then Gujarat Chief Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, alleging deliberate and wilful dereliction of duty on the part of State officials in preventing the pogrom. She complained of bureaucratic inaction, police complicity, hate speech and a ‘conspired unleashing of violence.
The police initially took no action on Jafri’s complaint. She filed a petition before the Gujarat High Court seeking that her complaint be treated as an FIR, so that an investigation may be launched into the larger conspiracy that caused the 2002 pogrom. On November 2nd 2007, the High Court dismissed this petition. Mrs. Jafri then sought the same prayer on March 3rd 2008 from the Supreme Court. By then, the Supreme Court had already constituted a Special Investigation Committee (SIT) to look into the Gujarat Riots case. The Court directed the SIT to also investigate Mrs. Jafri’s complaint.
The SIT filed a report closing the investigation against the accused, and granting them a ‘clean chit’ without hearing Mrs. Jafri. She then filed a Protest Petition against the investigation conducted by the SIT before the Supreme Court.
The SC ordered the Magistrate’s Court to look into the SIT’s closure report and the protest petition. Jafri argues that the Magistrate dismissed her petition without considering ‘substantial merits’. Specifically, she claims that her case has been independent of the case related to the Gulberg Society massacre from the beginning. While the Gulberg case is specific to the events of one night, her case calls for an investigation into the larger conspiracy at play in the many instances of violence that took place after Godhra. She argues that the Magistrate treated her case as being identical to the Gulberg case.
Mrs. Jafri then protested against the decision of the SIT before the Gujarat High Court. In October 2017, the High Court refused to find fault in the SIT’s report, stating that its functioning had been overseen by the Supreme Court. However, it allowed Jafri to demand further investigation before any appropriate forum, including the Magistrate’s Court, the High Court’s division bench, or the Supreme Court.
Gujarat High Court’s 2017 decision to the extent that it finds that the Magistrate has dealt with Jafri’s protest petition on substantial merits. Jafri seeks further investigation into the 2002 conspiracy from the Supreme Court.
On June 24th 2022, Justices A.M. Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and C.T. Ravikumar upheld the clean chit given by the Magistrate and the SIT to the accused through an anonymous Judgment. The Bench found no merit in Mrs. Jafri’s petition.
Facts of the Zakia Jafri Case
- The burning of the coach of the Sabarmati Express on February 27, 2002, and the resultant death of 59 people, led to riots in Gujarat. A day later, the husband of the appellant (Ehsan Jafri) was attacked and killed in Gulberg Society. Zakia Jafri filed a complaint on June 8, 2006, by which time the FIR regarding the incident had already been registered and preceded further by the police. Still, the appellant petitioned the high court seeking directions to Gujarat Police to register the said complaint.
- On November 2, 2017, the high court dismissed the appeal, relegating the appellant to invoke Sections 190 and 200 of the CRPC: to move before the Magistrate to seek cognizance of the offence and examination of the complaint, which is the prevailing legal norm and practice.
- Rather than approaching the Magistrate, the appellant approached the Supreme Court, where a writ petition filed by the National Human Rights Commission, seeking proper investigation with regard to the several cases relating to the riots across Gujarat were already pending.
- On March 26, 2008, the Supreme Court appointed a SIT headed by former CBI Director, RK Raghavan, whereby the complaints registered in respect of Gulberg Society were to be investigated. The Supreme Court passed another order on April 27, 2009 directing the SIT to look into the matter in respect of the appellant’s complaint. Though the apex court had earlier vacated the stay and directed that cases in the special courts would continue, due to the resignation of the Special Public Prosecutor in the Gulberg Society case, the court had to pass new directions that that the trial court(s) should not pronounce judgement till further order by the Supreme Court.
- Thereafter, on September 12, 2011, the apex court observed that once the investigation is completed by the SIT, the final report under Section 173(2) is required to be forwarded to the court empowered to take cognizance of the offence alleged.
- The court had also observed that if the SIT was of the opinion that there was no sufficient evidence or reasonable grounds for proceeding against persons named in the complaint, before taking a final decision on such a closure report, the court shall issue notice to the complainant and make available to her copies of the statements of the witnesses, other related documents and the investigation report.
- Accordingly, as per the directions of the top court, the SIT presented its final report on February 8, 2012, before the Magistrate. The said final report of the SIT came to be treated as a report under Section 173 (8). Thereafter, the Magistrate directed the supply of partial documents, rejecting the request of the appellant for granting rest of the documents. Against this order another SLP was filed which came to be allowed by the apex court, wherein it was also clarified that statements recorded by the SIT pursuant to the investigation undertaken after April 27, 2009 in respect of the allegations in complaint, be treated as statements of witnesses under Section 161 of the Code, ie examination of witness by the police, which, however, were not to be used for any other purpose, including the trial of Gulberg Society case.
- After getting all the relevant materials, on April 15, 2013, the appellant, Zakia Jafri, filed a protest petition before the Magistrate. On December 26, 2013, the Magistrate, by a reasoned order, rejected/dismissed the protest petition and accepted the final report of the SIT. Against this order, the appellant moved the high court, wherein on October 5, 2017, the said criminal revision was rejected, aggrieved by which the appellant moved the apex court on September 12, 2018.
- Though there was a delay of 216 days in filling the SLP, and, the same was still condoned/ignored by the Supreme Court, keeping in mind the subject matter at hand.
Constitution of India, 1950 Article 356 Gujarat Riots case – Breakdown of Constitutional machinery – Held, breakdown of law-and-order situation if for short duration, cannot partake color of breakdown of rule of law or constitutional crisis – To put it differently, misgovernance or failure to maintain law-and-order during a brief period may not be a case of failure of constitutional machinery in context of tenets embodied in Article 356 of Constitution – There must be credible evidence regarding State sponsored breakdown of law- and-order situation; not spontaneous or isolated instances or events of failure of State administration to control situation.
Indian Penal Code, 1860 Section 120B Criminal Conspiracy – To make out case of larger criminal conspiracy, it is essential to establish link indicative of meeting of minds of concerned persons for commission of crime.
- Whether in such a case the appellate court is bound to direct the SIT to take additional evidence required?
- Whether the appellant had to explain his conduct during the whole period prescribed for filing the appeal?
- Whether there was no substantial stand of the appellants, particularly in relation to the plea regarding?
SUBMISSIONS OF THE APPELLANT( ZAKIA JAFRI SIDE)
- On merits, the counsel for Zakia Jafri, submitted that the SIT had erroneously concluded that no offence was made out against the persons named in the complaint, despite the material collected by the SIT indicating otherwise. In other words, the SIT should not have filed a closure report.
- Furthermore, it was submitted that SIT failed to investigate other crucial allegations in relation to a “larger conspiracy”. It was also submitted that the Magistrate failed to exercise the powers vested in him, to take cognizance of the offence and in not directing further investigation.
- While Jafri’s submission was that there was no obligation on the Magistrate to accept the final report, and he may take cognizance and even direct further investigation, it is not the law either that the Magistrate is bound to accept the protest petition or direct further investigation.
SUBMISSIONS OF THE RESPONDENTS
- SIT submitted that it did everything in its power to investigate every allegation in the complaint, in accordance with the directions of the Supreme Court to look into the complaint and left no stone unturned. It was submitted that each aspect of every material collected was investigated and analysed extensively and the final report dealt with the 32 specific allegations and separately dealt with the case against each of the 63 persons named in the complaint.
- It was further submitted that in terms of the directions of the Supreme Court, the remit of the SIT was only to examine whether the material referred in the complaint disclosed commission of any offence of larger conspiracy at the highest level and involvement of any person other than the accused persons named in Gulberg Society.
- That being the remit of the SIT, it could not have investigated into any other aspect without an express direction of this court and also because the allegations of conspiracy at the local level had already been investigated into in all other cases registered at the relevant time, around 2,000 in number, including the nine major cases assigned to the Supreme Court appointed SIT.
- It was also submitted that even though the appellant could avail the remedy under Section 190 of the Criminal Procedure Code by presenting a complaint by the Magistrate, such remedy was never availed.
- It was also submitted by the counsel for the SIT that Jafri had emphasised on events that did not have a direct or causal bearing on the allegation of larger conspiracy involving higher officials. Further, the opinion of the SIT itself had to conform to the material dealt with in its report, which was submitted to be exhaustive, dealing with each allegation regarding each offence, pertaining to each person named in the complaint, in great detail.8
- It was further submitted by counsel for the SIT, that the Magistrate was required to examine the final report on the basis of the remit of the SIT and in doing so he applied his mind to the totality of the circumstances, including by taking note of averments in the protest petition and accepted the final report, being convinced that no case was made out for issuance of process against the named offenders or any other person in relation to a larger conspiracy at a higher level.
- The Solicitor General appearing for the state adopted the submissions of the counsel for the SIT and further submitted that it was the court that selected the cases which, set up the SIT, appointed its members and ensured fair investigation and a fair trial and it was the court itself that directed the SIT to present its report before the competent Magistrate. Thus, it was submitted by the Solicitor that the appellant could not challenge the wisdom of the court in accepting the investigation made by the SIT.
The court observed that since it had permitted those trials to continue wherein the allegations of criminal conspiracy had already been raised, what remained to be looked into, were only the “allegations of larger conspiracy at the highest level”. The SIT’s final report had and the Magistrate’s order had to be examined in this regard.
It is noteworthy that even the Amicus Curiae had broadly agreed with the final report made by the SIT, except for one point, he had contended that at prima facie stage offences under Sections 153A(1)(a) & (b), 153B(1)(c), 166 and 505(2) of the IPC dealing with promoting enmity, imputation assertions prejudicial to national integration, public servant disobeying the law, and statements conducing to public mischief were made out against the then Chief Minister.
The core basis on which such allegations of a larger conspiracy at the highest level were made was a report by a private panel of former judges of the Supreme Court, titled “Concerned Citizens Tribunal” as per which certain alleged utterances were made by the then Chief Minister in an official meeting while addressing the officials therein.
Such allegations, the Supreme Court observed, have been enquired into by the SIT which considered the relevant materials in this regard, as well recording the statements of the officials who were present in the said meeting, who have in unison stated that neither Sanjiv Bhatt nor Haren Pandya (on whose claims such allegations were made) were present in the review meeting convened by then chief minister and on additional relevant documentary evidence collected by the SIT, the claims with regard to such alleged utterances were found to be false.
The Supreme Court has gone further to observe that testimonies of these individuals were only to sensationalize the matter, which after the investigation of the SIT, has been held to be absolutely false. Thus, the court observed that since the structure of the “conspiracy at the highest level” was erected on such false claims, the same stands collapsed.
It is also important to note that the counsel for the appellant himself did not contend before the Supreme Court that a larger conspiracy at the highest level was hatched at such a meeting and made no reference to such meeting. As the main issue was regarding the allegations of larger criminal conspiracy at the highest level, which has itself been abandoned by the appellant in the appeal, the Supreme Court held that it must follow that no other aspect was required to be examined in the appeal as the finding of the Magistrate and of the High Court in that regard, was allowed to become final.
While the allegation of larger criminal conspiracy at the highest level in the complaint and protest petition, was in reference to the sensational claims made by Sanjeev Bhatt and Haren Pandya (which were anyway exposed as false by the SIT) the appellant pursued the same allegation by relying on the extra-judicial confessions recorded in the Tehelka tapes.
The court observed that the SIT did record the statements of 13 persons who were available and the same would have to be dealt with in appropriate proceedings, in particular, other cognate criminal cases and the Court’s observations were not a determination of their evidentiary value, which could only be determined in such cases, which are still pending.
The court has also observed that failure to obtain/collect intelligence or inaction to take these to the logical end could not be regarded as an act of criminal conspiracy and the SIT itself had noted that such inaction was to and had already been taken note of by initiating departmental action against them at the appropriate levels.
Further, even the breakdown of the law and order situation owing to spontaneous mass violence could not be said to be a part of a larger criminal conspiracy at the highest level of political dispensation unless there is clear evidence to conclude that there was a meeting of minds of all concerned and their concerted efforts to commit or promote commission of such crime.
Thus, where there was no such material, it could not be the case that the competent court takes cognizance or directs further investigation. Where materials during investigation did not link any meeting of minds, cases investigated by the SIT or for that matter, other incidents alleged in the complaint or the protest petition, it would “not be open to assume conspiracy in the air.”
The submission on behalf of the appellant that the SIT did not collect the call records of the accused person was also plainly rejected as the SIT was set up only in 2008 and the telephone operators in Gujarat at the time were equipped with the protocol of maintain electronic call records for a period of one year only, hence, it was not possible for the SIT to retrieve call records. Thus, the Court observed there was no failure on the part of the SIT in this regard either.
With regard to the submission of the appellant that transfers of officers was indicative of commission of the offence of the larger criminal conspiracy, the court has observed the SIT was not constituted to look into the administrative matters of the State such as transfers and promotions unless the same was specifically brought before the SIT.
Furthermore, the court observed that such administrative decisions, which were especially taken after the mass scale violence could not possibility, indicate criminal conspiracy, which ought to have preceded the events.
It is also noteworthy that the court observes that the attempt of the appellant was to keep on improvising their grievances and make new allegations including to involve new offenders as being party to the larger criminal conspiracy hatched at the highest level and any which way, a major chunk of the protest petition was based on the claims of those persons, whose statements have been found to be replete with falsehood.
Keeping these aspects in mind, the Supreme Court observed that the Magistrate, as well as, the High Court committed no error whatsoever in accepting the final report presented by the SIT, which in its opinion, had considered all aspects of allegations exhaustively.
- It is only prudent to recall that judges are only one part of the justice delivery system, which includes police and investigating officers as well. As the court itself observed, “investigation primarily consists in the ascertainment of the facts and circumstances of the case” and by definition, it includes “all the proceedings under the Code for the collection of evidence conducted by a police officer”.
- Now, it must not be forgotten that investigation, for good or for the bad, is the exclusive prerogative of the investigating agency, which in this case was the SIT. Thus, it is on the SIT itself to form its own opinion, any which way, on the basis of the material collated by it during the investigation. Such opinion is not only to be regarding the commission of the offence but also regarding the involvement of such persons in the commission of such a crime.
- Thus, to presume that the accused has committed an offence, that is, to come to such a conclusion that there is strong suspicion against the accused, there must be corroborating materials. Further, at the subsequent stage, before the Magistrate may intervene where the view taken by the investigating agency is not based on the materials or is a completely erroneous or implausible view.
- In this regard the court has observed two things firstly, that the materials, which have been extensively analyzed by the SIT, or the ones relied upon by the appellant do not corroborate the allegations of a larger conspiracy at the highest level. Secondly, the court observed, as is settled law, that in dealing with the protest petition, the Magistrate could only examine the challenge in the context of the scope for investigation of allegations referred to in the complaint including other materials collected during the investigation by the SIT in this regard.
- This was in furtherance of the 2013 order of the Supreme Court as per which statements recording in the enquiry undertaken by the SIT shall only be used in the proceedings relating to the said complaint. The court observed that the earlier directions and clarifications by the court in the case were not challenged at any stage.
- Wherever the view of the investigating agency has been held to be a plausible one, which is based on relevant materials, it is unlikely that courts would interfere, and even so where the investigating agency, as in the present case was appointed by the Supreme Court itself and monitored and guided by regular directions of the court. In this, the judgement of the Court in the case not deviate from established principles of criminal jurisprudence.
- 16The judgement is comprehensive and detailed in that it covers each averment by the appellant and deals with it extensively and in accordance with settled principles of law. No fault can be found with the Supreme Court’s observations as they are in light with settled precedents pertaining to issues of criminal procedure that were before it, primarily those relating to investigation, closure reports and protest petitions.
- Furthermore, it is also settled law that the threshold for establishing the link for holding conspiracy is a very high one and the same assessment by the Court is not out of the ordinary.
- As there are multiple related proceedings to this case, which are still pending before courts, any commentary therein is restricted and the attempt is merely to highlight what the court has examined and what it has held in Zakia Jafari’s case.
- It must not be forgotten that in cases pertaining to the riots in Gujarat appropriate action has been taken and accused persons have also been convicted. For the sake of brevity and convenience, the author at present has only dealt with Zakia Jafari’s case decided by the Supreme Court.
- More often than not, when litigants desire a particular outcome, wanting the law to be a certain way is an easy temptation to give in to. It is only human to do so, and such tendencies extend to areas even beyond the law. That the law may require a change, whether to be more complainant friendly, or in terms of criminal procedure at large or otherwise, would be a different conversation but in the law as it stands, there is nothing out of the box or extraordinary in the judgement which plainly follows the established principles of law, in dealing with the factual matrix before it and the submissions made by the counsels in that regard.
- While it is necessary that law must grow to meet the needs of a developing society and efforts are always being made in that regard, it would also bode well for a society that wishes to uphold the majesty of law to also recall and remember what the Romans said – dura lex, sed lex. The law is harsh but it is the law.
JUDGEMENT OF THE COURT
- Keeping in mind the principles of law laid down by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in regards to hearsay evidence, it has been found that the evidence given by Shri R.B. Sreekumar neither forms part of the same transaction nor the said statements have been made by Shri Sreekumar at the time of occurrence of the incident or at least immediately thereafter and, therefore are not relevant as per Sec 6 of the Indian Evidence Act. In the instant case, the so called evidence of Shri R.B. Sreekumar, concerning the events before the riots was his own perception as he had no direct knowledge of the same.
- It was further reported that both Hindu and Muslim communities had been inciting violence by way of distribution of pamphlets. Shri Sreekumar appeared on the scene 40 days after the riots and whatever has been claimed by him has no direct bearing on the facts in issue.
- As far as Police Department was concerned, he (Shri Chakravarthi) had given directions based on his suggestions. In view of the aforesaid position, it cannot be said that no action was taken by the Govt. on the assessment of situation made by Shri R.B. Sreekumar. Of course, there was difference of opinion between Shri R.B. Sreekumar and the Home Department on certain issues. However, the fact remains that Shri Sreekumar appeared on the scene 40 days after the riots and remained posted as Addl. DG (In1.) for a little more that five months, and therefore, whatever has been claimed by him has no direct bearing the issue i.e. events of 27/28-02-2002 or subsequently in March 2002.
- As regards, Shri M.K.Tandon, the then Jt. CP, Sector-Il and Shri P.B. Gondia, the then DCP, Zone- IV it does not appear to be a simple case of mere dereliction of duty, section 304A IPC would be squarely attracted in such a case.
- In so far as promotion of other IAS and IPS officers are concerned, the view taken by SIT seems to be acceptable.
- The investigative agencies let off the accused in Bilkisbano case. If the CBI had not stepped in, the accused would have gone unpunished. Similarly, in Best Bakery case, it appears that the prosecution was done in a shoddy manner to protect the accused.
- The recommendations of the SIT that the Govt. of Gujarat should set up a committee perhaps needs to be reconsidered. It would be appropriate if these two cases are examined by SIT so as to fix responsibility on the investigating/prosecuting officials and suitable directions can thereafter be issued by this Hon’ble Court to take action, either under the Indian Penal Code (depending on whether it reveals offences under IPC) or departmental action for misconduct. The acts of the investigating/prosecuting agencies may attract Section 201 IPC.
- The view taken by the SIT may be accepted.
- Addl. DG (Int.) to Shri K. Chakravarthi, the then DGP would be hearsay evidence not saved by res gestae and therefore, would be inadmissible in evidence.
- That as far as SIT’s conclusion with regard to the steps taken by Shri Narendra Modi to control the riots in Ahmedabad City is concerned, the same may be accepted.
- That as far as the observations of the Chairman, SIT on the handing over of the bodies of the Godhra victims to Shri Jaydeep Patel are concerned, the same may be accepted.
- That as far as SIT’s observations with regard to the alleged inaction of Shri P.C. Pande, the then Commissioner of Police, Ahmedabad City are concerned, no comment is necessary at this stage as an application u/s 319 Cr.PC, has been filed in respect of Shri P.C. Pande also, and the sane may be dealt with 423 by the concerned Court in accordance with law, in the same manner as suggested in respect of Shri M.K. Tandon and Shri P.B Gondia.
- In other words, Section 153A(1)(b) IPC can be paraphrased as whoever commits any act which is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between different religious communities and which is likely to disturb the public tranquility’. Even if any of the aforesaid three versions allegedly made by Chief Minister, the ingredients of section 153A(1) (a) & (b) are not attracted.
- 21Regarding the statement made by him in the meeting on 27.02.2002. In this connection, as discussed, above SIT is of the view that the offences under the aforesaid sections of law are not made out against Shri Narendra Modi.. In the light of the aforesaid facts, a closure report is being submitted for favour of perusal and orders.
CONCLUSION (Zakia Jafri Case)
The Supreme Court is the last pillar of Indian democracy but it knew an adverse finding against a sitting prime minister would hasten the collapse of the entire edifice.
Questionable may well be an understatement: a better word could be ‘destructive’. For with this judgment, the Supreme Court has destroyed whatever faith civil society had retained in the fairness of Indian jurisprudence.
Zakia Jafri’s appeal to the Supreme Court in 2017 made it non-bridgeable because its principal accused was now the Prime Minister of India. This put the Supreme Court in an impossible position: Not entertaining her petition would have further eroded the confidence of the public in the judiciary’s guardianship of its rights. But reopening the case would create a constitutional crisis.
The open rancour that its judgement displays towards civil society activists reflects its extreme discomfort with the position in which it found itself. It could not ignore the fate that had befallen the victims of the Gujarat riots. It could not therefore deny Zakia Jafri another hearing of her case. But it also knew that if it conceded her request for a fresh inquiry, Modi was even less likely to step down for its duration than Indira Gandhi had been in 1975. The risk of another head on clash between the executive and the judiciary that could, this time, bring India’s democracy to a permanent end, was therefore immense.
 2 https://www.scobserver.in/cases/protest-petition-against-gujarat-riots-sit-zakia-jafris-state-of-gujarat/ Last visited on 02/09/2022)
4 https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/gujarat-riots-mere-failure-or-inaction-of-state-administration-no-basis-to- infer-conspiracy-supreme-court-in-zakia-jafris-plea-202253 (Last visited on 01/09/2022)
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 14 https://legislative.gov.in/sites/default/files/COI…pdf Zakia Jafri Case
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