• Gujarat

    1. Overview.. 12
    2. Human rights violations by the security forces. 2
    3. Elusive justice and the Gujarat riots of 2002. 3
    4. Status of the IDPs. 5
    5. Violations of the rights of the minorities. 6

    1. Overview

    Ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, justice continued to elude the victims of the communal riots of 2002. In a landmark judgement on 24 February 2006, a Special Sessions Court in Mumbai sentenced nine of the accused to life imprisonment and acquitted eight others in the Best Bakery case in which 14 minority people were burnt alive by a mob on 1 March 2002.[1]  On 12 June 2006, Zaheera Sheikh, the prime witness was sentenced to three months rigorous imprisonment and fined Rs 500 for lying in court by Judge Abhay Thipsay of the Special Sessions Court in Mumbai.[2]

    Gujarat continued to live on the edge of communal violence. Violence erupted on 1 May 2006 and 2 May 2006 following the demolition of a dargah (Muslim holy place) by the municipal authorities during a demolition drive against illegal encroachment in Vadodara. On 1 May 2006, two persons identified as Husain Dhobi and Mohammed Ayaz Mansuri were killed in police firing and two others identified as Ramchandra Meena and Biren Shah were stabbed to death.[3] Another person was killed in police firing[4] while one Mohammed Rafiq Vohra was first stabbed and then burnt alive by an irate mob on the night of 2 May 2006.[5] On 3 May 2006, army was deployed to control the situation.[6] On 4 May 2006, the Supreme Court stayed the Gujarat High Court order directing authorities to remove all religious structures encroaching public land in the State.[7]

    On 19 September 2006, the Gujarat Assembly passed the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill 2006 amid protests from the Opposition Congress party. The Bill recognized Jainism and Buddhism as part of Hinduism and allowed free conversion amongst these three religions while conversion to Islam and Christianity without permission from the authorities was prohibited.[8] Earlier, an independent Citizen's Inquiry Committee in its report “Untold Story of Hindukaran (Proselytisation) of Adivasis in Dang, Gujarat” released on 3 January 2006 accused the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliated organisations of spreading a hate campaign against Christians and cultural indoctrination of the tribals in Dang district.[9]

    The press continued to face the wrath of the State. On 29 August 2006, Manoj Shinde, editor of Surat Saamna, a Gujarati eveninger, was arrested from his residence by the Detection of Crime Branch (DCB) after DCB Inspector V J Jadeja lodged a complaint against him on behalf of the Government of Gujarat under Sections 124A (sedition), 292, 293, 294(b) (dealing with obscene publication), 500 (defamation), 501 (printing and aggravating matter against union territory or Chief Minister) and 502 and 505(1) (circulation of false statement against the public peace) of the Indian Penal Code. The State Government accused Manoj Shinde of using “abusive words” against Chief Minister Narendra Modi in an editorial on 28 August 2006 while alleging administrative failure in tackling the flood situation in Surat. However, close associates of Mr Shinde alleged that he was being deliberately targeted because of his association with the Congress party. On 30 August 2006, Mr Shinde was sent to judicial custody.[10]

    By the end of December 2006, the Gujarat High Court had only 33 judges against the sanctioned capacity of 42 judges. This was despite the fact that 1,13,271 cases were pending before the Gujarat High Court as on 30 September 2006. By 30 September 2006, the vacancies in the District and Subordinate Courts increased to 113 vacancies against the 59 vacancies as on 30 June 2006. There was a total backlog of 3,31,6544 cases before the District and Subordinate Courts as on 30 September 2006.[11] On 14 November 2006, the Chief Justice of India, Justice Y K Sabharwal launched evening courts or “double shift” courts in Gujarat to help reduce the number of pendency cases. For the first time in the country, a total of 27 evening courts including 22 in Ahmedabad and 5 in Rajkot started functioning since 14 November 2006.[12]

    The Gujarat Government failed to set up a State Human Rights Commission.

    2. Human rights violations by the security forces

    The Gujarat Police were responsible for serious human rights violations. In March 2006, two Kashmiri youths identified as Mudasar Ahmad Rather and Mohammad Ayub Bhat were killed in Ahmedabad and brought to their respective villages at Ratnipora and Ladi in Jammu and Kashmir and buried.[13] The Gujarat Police claimed that they had killed four persons including two Kashmiris in an encounter. The bodies were handed over to their relatives. The family members as well as relatives of both the deceased had alleged that the deceased were arrested in between 15 and 20 December 2005 and later killed in custody by the Gujarat Police.[14]

    On 22 August 2006, three persons including two civilians identified as Abdul Ghanchi and Rizwana Ghanchi and a home guard identified as Madan Makwana were killed when police opened fire at a mob protesting the demolition of a graveyard's wall by the government officials in order to remove flood waters in Radhanpur town in Patan district.[15]

    3. Elusive justice and the Gujarat riots of 2002

    Justice continued to elude the victims of the communal riots of 2002. In August 2004, the Supreme Court directed the State Government of Gujarat to form a 10-member high powered inquiry committee headed by the Director General of Police of the State to re-examine 2,020 cases earlier closed by the police on the ground that the accused could not be traced, and submit report to the Supreme Court every three months. In its quarterly report of 31 January 2006, the inquiry committee stated that of the 2,020 riot cases that were closed by the Gujarat Police, 1,594 had been re-opened for investigation while 40 cases had not been found fit for fresh investigation, 640 people had been arrested in connection with the 1,594 criminal cases, 13 new cases had been registered and departmental inquiry had been initiated against 41 policemen for their alleged lapses in probing the post-Godhra riot cases. Of the 41 policemen, eight were Inspectors, 11 Sub-inspectors and 22 constables.[16]

    On 1 September 2006, the police arrested 10 persons, including a woman, for loot and arson during post-Godra riots at Kishanganj village in Sabarkantha district in March 2004. The case of arson and loot of Kishanganj village was reopened following the Supreme Court order of re-investigations into the cases that were closed for lack of evidence.[17]

    On 24 February 2006, a Special Sessions Court in Mumbai sentenced nine persons identified as Rajubhai Dhamirbhai Baria, Pankaj Virendragir Gosai, Bahadursinh Chauhan alias Jitu, Jagdish Chunilal Rajput, Dinesh Fulchand Rajbhar, Shanabhai Chimanbhai Baria, Shailesh Anupbhai Tadvi, Suresh alias Lalo Devjibhai Vasava and Sanjay Thakker to life imprisonment and acquitted eight others in the Best Bakery case in which 14 persons were burnt alive by a mob on 1 March 2002. Altogether, there were a total of 21 accused in the case of which four accused were missing. Earlier, a fast track court at Vadodara had acquitted all the accused for lack of evidence in 2003 since the prime witnesses Zahira Sheikh and her family members had turned hostile. On 12 April 2004, the Supreme Court had transferred the case to Mumbai for a re-trial.[18]

    On 12 June 2006, Zaheera Sheikh was sentenced to three months rigorous imprisonment and fined Rs 500 for lying in court by Judge Abhay Thipsay of the Special Sessions Court in Mumbai.[19] She was already in jail facing one year simple imprisonment awarded by the Supreme Court on 8 March 2006 for contempt of court. While delivering the judgement, Justice Arijit Pasayat of the Supreme Court said, “This is a classic example of a case where evidence were tampered with and witnesses won over.”[20] Earlier, Zaheera Sheikh's mother Sahrunissa Sheikh[21] and sister Saheera Sheikh[22] were sentenced to three months rigorous imprisonment each by the Special Sessions Court on 16 May 2006 and 8 June 2006 respectively for giving false evidence in the court.

    On 28 March 2006, nine persons, including prime accused Mustaq Ahmed Sheikh, were convicted by Additional Sessions Judge Sonia Gokani in a post-Godhra riots case in Danilimda of Ahmedabad where one person was shot dead in April 2002. While Mustaq Ahmed Sheikh was sentenced to 10 years rigorous imprisonment, the court awarded 1 year and six months imprisonment to the eight other accused. The court however acquitted 25 others giving them benefit of doubt.[23]

    Some were acquitted because of the lack of evidence. On 21 April 2006 Additional Session Judge N C Chaudhary of Godhra acquitted all the 52 accused in a post-Godhra riot case of Halol taluka under Panchmahal district for want of evidence. The accused were arrested from Pavagadh and Dhikva villages of Halol taluka for rioting and burning properties during the riots on 28 February 2002.[24]

    In its final report, submitted to the Railway Ministry on 3 March 2006, Justice U C Banerjee Committee on Sabarmati Express train carnage in Godhra, which was set up by Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, stated that the fire was “accidental and not deliberate”. 59 karsevaks (Hindu pilgrims) were killed in the fire at Sabarmati Express on 27 February 2002 in Godhra triggering one of the worst communal riots in post-independent India.[25] On 6 March 2006, the Gujarat High Court directed the United Progressive Alliance government not to table the report in Parliament until the court concludes hearing on a petition challenging the legality of the Justice UC Banerjee panel when another judicial commission was already probing the matter.[26] On 3 July 2006, the Supreme Court upheld the order of the Gujarat High Court.[27]

    4. Status of the IDPs

    On 8 March 2006, the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) allowed raising of the Sardar Sarovar dam from the present 110.64 metres to 121.92 metres.[28] The NCA claimed that all the 32,600 Project Affected Families (PAFs) from 228 villages to be displaced by the Sardar Sarovar dam at height of 121.92 metres in Gujarat (4,726 PAFs from 19 villages), Madhya Pradesh (24,421 PAFs from 177 villages) and Maharashtra (3,453 PAFs from 32 villages) had been fully resettled by the respective State Governments.[29] The Narmada Bachao Andolan protested against the decision of the NCA to raise the dam height, saying about 35,000 displaced families between the heights of 110.64 and 121.92 metres remained to be rehabilitated.[30]

    A Sardar Sarovar Project Status Report submitted by the Union Water Resources Ministry to the Prime Minister's Office on 22 March 2006 revealed that 36,921 families from 226 villages in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra would be affected if the height of the Narmada dam was raised to 121.92 metres. This included 4,726 PAFs in Gujarat, 3,453 PAFs in Maharashtra and 28,742 PAFs in Madhya Pradesh. The report stated that 13,233 PAFs remained to be resettled in Madhya Pradesh at 110.64 metres. The report stated that Gujarat had spent only Rs. 10,918 crore till December 2005 on rehabilitation. However, the Centre in its application filed in the Supreme Court on 17 April 2006 claimed that all the affected families up to the height of 121.92 metres were resettled in the three States.[31]

    On 17 April 2006, the Supreme Court allowed the raising of the height of the Narmada dam to 121.92 meters as approved by the NCA on 8 March 2006. However, the Supreme Court also warned that it would stop the construction work if the PAFs were not properly rehabilitated.[32]

    A Group of Ministers (GoM) consisting Water Resources Minister Saifuddin Soz, Minister for Social Justice and Employment Meira Kumar and Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Prithviraj Chauhan in their report  “A Brief Note on the Assessment of Resettlement and Rehabilitation (R&R) Sites and Submergence of Villages of the Sardar Sarovar Project” of 9 April 2006 stated that the rehabilitation work as claimed by the State Government of Madhya Pradesh was only on paper.[33] But in order to re-write the report of the GoM of his own cabinet, the Prime Minister in April 2006 set up a three-member Sardar Sarovar Project Relief and Rehabilitation Oversight Group (OSG) headed by former Comptroller and Auditor-General of India, V.K. Shunglu to look into the status of rehabilitation of PAFs in Madhya Pradesh.[34] In its report of 3 July 2006, the Shunglu Oversight Group stated that it found no major discrepancy in the Action Taken Report (ATR) of the Madhya Pradesh Government on the status of rehabilitation of PAFs.[35] On 10 July 2006, the Supreme Court declined to stop the construction of the Sardar Sarovar project and allowed raising its height evenly up to 119 meters in all blocks.[36]

    The Sardar Sarovar dam height was raised up to 121.92 metres in Gujarat by the end of December 2006.[37]

    In addition to the Narmada dam oustees, the State Government of Gujarat also failed to rehabilitate the victims of the communal riots of 2002. A three-member team from the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) visited the relief camps in Gujarat from 13-17 October 2006. In its report, the NCM's team found that 5,307 Muslim families displaced by the 2002 communal riots were living in “precarious conditions” in 46 makeshift camps across the State. The NCM team found that there was lack of basic facilities like sanitation, drinking water, approach roads, streetlights, schools and primary healthcare in the camps. The camp inmates were denied the below poverty line (BPL) ration cards and jobs under centrally-sponsored employment schemes.[38]

    5. Violations of the rights of the minorities

    On 19 September 2006, the Gujarat Assembly passed the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill 2006 amid protests from the Opposition Congress party. Although Jainism and Buddhism are two separate religions of India, the Bill recognized these two religious groups as part of Hinduism and allowed free conversion amongst these three religions. The Bill also allowed conversions among different sects of the same faith in Islam and Christianity but prohibited Hindus, Buddhists and Jains from converting into Islam or Christianity without permission from the authorities.[39]

    In another case of repression against the religious minorities in Gujarat, the State Government decided not to renew the contract of five Catholic nuns from the Salesian Missionaries of Mary Immaculate, who were running a leprosy hospital in Ahmedabad since October 1949 after the expiry of their contract on 31 March 2006. The State Government did not give any reason for not renewing the permission to run the leprosy hospital except the reported statement of the State Health Minister, Ashok Bhatt that it was because “There is no more leprosy in Gujarat”.[40]

    In May 2006, The Indian Express reported that in villages of Panchmahals, Banaskantha and Sabarkantha districts, which were worst hit by the communal violence in 2002, Muslims had been kept out of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme “through a strategy mixing disinformation with no information and prejudice”.[41] In Eral, Delol, and Vejalpur villages in Panchmahals district, the names of the Muslim villagers were not even included.[42] Following the reports of The Indian Express, the Central Government and the National Commission for Minorities sought reports from the Gujarat Government.[43]

    [1]. Nine convicted in Best Bakery case, The Pioneer, 25 February 2006

    [2]. http://www.rediff.com/news/2006/jun/12best.htm

    [3]. Vadodara flares up as old dargah demolished, 4 die, The Indian Express, 2 May 2006

    [4]. Centre blames Gujarat govt for clashes, The Statesman, 3 May 2006

    [5]. Neighbours turn murderers in the dark - Father of two trapped, stabbed & set ablaze, The Hindu,  2 May 2006

    [6]. Army deployed in Vadodara, The Hindu, 4 May 2006

    [7]. Centre cites tension in Vadodara, SC stays HC order on demolition, The Indian Express, 5 May 2006

    [8]. Conversions among sects of same faith allowed in Gujarat, The Hindu, 20 September 2006

    [9]. 'Tribal culture at stake', The Hindu, 4 January 2006 

    [10]. Editor charged with sedition for abusing Modi, The Indian Express, 31 August 2006

    [11]. Court News, October-December 2006, Supreme Court of India

    [12]. Justice on fast-track with evening courts, The Indian Express, 17 November 2006

    [13]. Anger in both houses over killing - of Shopian youth in Ahmedabad, The Kashmir Times, 23 March 2006

    [14]. 2 Kashmiri youth slain in Gujarat laid to rest - Custodial killings, allege families, The Kashmir Times, 22 March 2006

    [15]. 3 killed in Guj firing, The Central Chronicle, 23 August 2006

    [16]. Gujarat riot probe panel moves against 41 cops, The Indian Express, 9 February 2006 

    [17]. http://www.expressindia.com/fullstory.php?newsid=73257#compstory

    [18]. Nine convicted in Best Bakery case, The Pioneer, 25 February 2006 

    [19]. http://www.rediff.com/news/2006/jun/12best.htm

    [20]. http://in.rediff.com/news/2006/mar/08godhra.htm

    [21]. http://www.rediff.com/news/2006/may/16best.htm

    [22]. http://www.rediff.com/news/2006/jun/08best.htm

    [23]. http://www.rediff.com/news/2006/mar/28best.htm

    [24]. http://www.rediff.com/news/2006/apr/22godhra.htm

    [25]. 'Godhra train fire an accident', The Asian Age, 4 March 2006

    [26]. http://www.rediff.com/news/2006/mar/06best.htm

    [27]. Godhra: SC refuses to stay Gujarat HC order on Banerjee panel report, The Indian Express, 4 July 2006

    [28]. Narmada authority clears increase in dam height, The Hindu, 10 March 2006

    [29]. http://nca.gov.in/rnr_pafs.htm

    [30]. Narmada: Union Ministry report nails claims on rehabilitation, The Hindu, 29 April 2006

    [31]. Narmada: Union Ministry report nails claims on rehabilitation, The Hindu, 29 April 2006, http://www.hindu.com/2006/04/29/stories/2006042918591700.htm

    [32]. Supreme Court: No work on dam if no rehab, The Asian Age, 18 April 2006 

    [33]. Rehabilitation work shown only on paper: GoM report, The Hindu, 17 April 2006 

    [34]. PM sets up dam rehab panel, The Asian Age, 25 April 2006

    [35]. PM panel found no major discrepancy in MP report on rehab, The Indian Express, 11 July 2006

    [36]. SC no to stopping work on Sardar Sarovar dam, The Tribune, 11 July 2006

    [37]. And finally, the Narmada dam reaches the desired height, The Indian Express, 29 December 2006

    [38]. 5,000 Muslims still in camps, The Hindustan Times, 24 October 2006

    [39]. Conversions among sects of same faith allowed in Gujarat, The Hindu, 20 September 2006

    [40]. Gujarat shuts down nuns, The Asian Age, 7 April 2006

    [41]. Fair and fear: a tale of 2 villages in Gujarat and rural job scheme, Express Investigation, No guarantee scheme: Part-2, The Indian Express, 29 May 2006

    [42]. No guarantee for Muslims here in national rural job guarantee, The Indian Express, 28 May 2006

    [43]. Explain why Muslims falling off job scheme: Centre to Gujarat, The Indian Express, 1 June 2006

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