How Nanavati Commission struggled to get SIT papers for probe

Nanavati Panel report: ‘Anger over train burning led to 2002 Gujarat riots’

The February 27, 2002 train burning incident in Godhra claimed the lives of 59 Hindus. File

The Justice Nanavati-Mehta Commission report on 2002 Gujarat riots that was tabled in the Gujarat Assembly on Wednesday, has detailed how it struggled to get hold of the material of the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) that re-investigated nine of the 2002 Gujarat riots cases, including the Godhra train burning case, for over four years.

The complete material of the SIT as demanded by the Commission, running into 9,000 pages, was heavily relied upon by the Commission for some of its findings and it was made available to the latter after several communications and directions that lasted over four years.

Notably, the SIT was formed by a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court while acting on a group of petitions moved by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and others to probe into nine gruesome massacres of Gujarat in 2002, including the Godhra train burning case. The NHRC reports were also among the other material the Commission scoured, but has said that the NHRC’s initial adverse remarks on the state government were because it did not have complete data before it by then. The report has recorded the chronology of the communications between the Commission, SIT and the government related to the submission of the material.

“On 26.10.2009, the Commission having come to know that the SIT, constituted by the Gujarat Government pursuant to the order of the Supreme Court has also investigated certain incidents including Naroda Patiya, Naroda Gam and the Gulberg society incidents..., called upon SIT to produce before the Commission relevant material as that was likely to be useful for the purpose of the inquiry,” records the report. “Pursuant to the said direction, SIT produced some papers in January and February, 2010,” the report adds.

Subsequently, the Commission had sought the statement of the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi recorded by the SIT and other papers. However, on August 30, 2010, the SIT informed the Commission that a copy of the statement of the CM could not be supplied “in view of the order of the Supreme Court passed on 19.8.2010”. Modi had appeared before the Commission in March 2010 where he faced a near nine-hour questioning over two days. The SIT eventually gave Modi a clean chit.

“Copy of the order was also sent to the Commission. It was stated therein that the SIT should not divulge any information collected by it during the course of the investigation except to the trial court without leave of that court,” says the report. “On 5.9.2011, the Commission issued summons to SIT to produce before it copies of further statements and material collected by it. On 16.9.2011, SIT informed the Commission that in view of the SC’s order it was not possible to supply those papers. On 30.9.2011 the Commission wrote to the SIT that as the criminal appeal in which the said order was passed, was disposed of by the SC, there was no justification for not producing the material,” reads the report.

The Commission report further gave details of the communication regarding the SIT material and records, “On 1.10.2011, SIT informed the Commission that it has requested the amicus curie appointed by the SC in those matters, to bring the demand made by the Commission to the notice of the SC. On 20.2.2012, the Commission wrote to the SIT to obtain an order from the SC.... On 28.2.2012, the SIT informed the Commission that it has already approached the SC and it was awaiting an order from it.”

Eventually, the Commission passed a direction to the SIT to furnish information. The report says, “As nothing was heard for a long time, the Commission issued a direction to the SIT on 22.11.2012... to furnish information regarding the status of the direction given by the SC.”

After this, an officer of the SIT filed an affidavit before the Commission that pursuant to the letter of the Commission, SIT had filed another application before the SC and that the latter’s response was awaited. Later, an officer of the Gujarat government’s Home Department wrote to the Commission informing that the SIT’s application for permission to produce documents has been directed by the SC to be placed before a bench of three judges. Meanwhile, the Commission had also written to the government that the latter and SIT should jointly request the SC to permit SIT ‘to produce the relevant material before the Commission to avoid delay in submission of the report’.

The Commission again wrote to the government on September 12, 2013 in this regard “as nothing was heard for a long time”. This was also followed by another letter by the Commission to the government.

Later, the SIT told the Commission it had submitted the papers demanded by the latter to the “appropriate court”. Following this, the Commission wrote to the state government to obtain the copies from courts concerned and produce before it. Eventually, the government made applications before the courts concerned, obtained the copies of the SIT papers and produced them before the Commission on June 26, 2014. “In all, the material consisting of about 9,000 pages has been produced,” records the Commission.

The Commission submitted its final report to the Gujarat government on November 18, 2014. Among the other material that the Commission drew from was the NHRC’s annual reports. The Commission notes that while it went through the preliminary comments of the NHRC of April 1, 2002, it also considered the compliance report filed by the Gujarat government. It notes: “The initial adverse comments made by the NHRC were mainly because of the fact that the complete data regarding the steps taken by the government was not placed before the NHRC.” The NHRC had taken suo motu action in the case of Gujarat in March 2002. The Nanavati-Mehta Commission has finally concluded after this scrutiny, that most of the persons who had left their places of residence during the riots had returned “and those who have not returned are staying at the new places willingly because of better facilities available there”.

The only grievance, it notes is the adequate financial relief which has not been granted. “Obviously that depends upon the financial resources of the government and its policy”, the judges have noted in their conclusion.

The Commission has also considered the report of the Citizens’ Tribunal headed by Justice (retired) Krishna Iyer, but its findings were not relied upon. The report also records that the Commission had also ‘gone through’ the report published by the Editors’ Guild at the relevant time.