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2002 Gujarat riots: After over 12 years, Nanavati panel submits final report

The Nanavati Commission probing the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was heading the state as chief minister, today submitted its final report after over 12 years of investigation. The probe panel is headed by retired Supreme Court judge Justice G T Nanavati and comprises of retired judge Justice Akshay Mehta.

Justice Nanavati handed over the bulky report comprising over over 2,000 pages, to Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel at her residence in Gandhinagar. After submitting the report Nanavati said that he work was over and now it was up to the state government to make the findings of the report public. “I have submitted the report to the state government. They will study it and then decide on making it public,” Nanavati told reporters. It would be the decision of the state government to make the report public before tabling it in the state Assembly or not.

In this report, the Nanavati Commission panel has given it findings on the role played by the police, government, especially political leaders and local administration during the 2002 riots, besides over 4,000 cases of violence it probed.

When asked if he had mentioned about role of the then chief minister Narendra Modi in the report Nananvati said, “No comments please”. In its various orders and even before the Gujarat High Court, the Nanavati panel had stated that it did not have sufficient evidence to call Modi for questioning. Nanavati today also declined to comment on findings of the report as it was a privileged information which only the state government could divulge.

Nanavati, who had also probed the 1984 anti-Sikh riots during the NDA government in year 2000, did not feel much difference in work saying, “We are used to such inquiry and procedures.” Nanavati was appointed by the National Democratic Alliance Government on May 8, 2000 to inquire into certain matters connected with anti-Sikh riots that took place in Delhi and other parts of the country on and after October 31, 1984 following the assassination of former prime minister Indira Gandhi. He had submitted report on the anti-Sikh riots in February 2005.

On the delay in completion of the report, Nanavati said that it was mainly because of refusal by the Supreme Court appointed special investigation team (SIT) to give it access to investigation papers. He said there was some delay of about two years because SIT refused to share some of the investigation papers. Also, because of the affidavits filed by suspended IPS officer Sanjeev Bhatt, there was further delay in completing the report, he added.

He lamented the fact that people did not come out to testify before the commission. “In India this was a major hindrance in any inquiry,” Nanavati said, adding that even if some influential people, whose testimony could have carried weight, had come before the commission it would have been useful. He also pointed out that facts about some incidents were exaggerated which created a wrong impression in minds of people about riots.

The retired justice also indicated that number of police personnel was also limited to control the riots. “If there is fear that police will not allow one to go scott free, only they law and order could be controlled. Presence of police does make a difference,” Nanavati said. He also cited example of Mumbai where presence of police is seen on roads.

The retired judge of the Supreme Court also indicated that number of police personnel was also limited to control the riots. “If there is fear that police will not allow one to go scott free, only then law and order could be controlled. Presence of police does make a difference,” Nanavati said. He also cited example of Mumbai where presence of police is seen on roads.

With regard to access to former President K R Narayanan’s letters to former Prime Minsiter Atal Bihari Vajpayee after the 2002 riots, Nananvati said that if the center had given them access to those letters it would have helped them in the probe.

In February 2006 the UPA government had denied access to the correspondence between the former President, K R Narayanan, and Vajpayee, on the steps taken to control the 2002 Gujarat riots, claiming that it was in the public interest. The Commission sought production of the letters from the President’s Secretariat after an advocate, representing a section of the riot-hit families, claimed that these letters could hold vital clues to the Government’s “inaction” in controlling the riots.

This Nanavati commission was set up by Modi on March 3, 2002, under the Commissions of Inquiry Act and was headed by Justice K G Shah. The initial terms of reference of the commission was to probe the incident of February 27, 2002 where 59 persons, mostly Hindu Karsevaks, were burnt alive near Godhra railway station by a mob.

Later, in June 2002 the then Modi government widened the commission’s scope of inquiry to include the post-Godhra communal riots and had appointed retired Supreme Court judge G T Nanavati as its chairman. Over 1,000 people, mostly Muslims were killed during the wide spread religious violence in Gujarat, after the train burning incident.

After Justice Shah’s death the government appointed Justice (retired) Akshay Mehta as a member of the commission.

In June 2005 the state government further widened the commission’s scope bringing it in its power to question political leaders, ministers, including the then chief minister Modi.

The Nanavati panel in September 2008 had submitted one part of its findings pertaining to the Godhra train burning incident where it had concluded that the incident of setting afire S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express near Godhra railway station was a pre-planned conspiracy. A special court has convicted 31 persons for criminal conspiracy and murder in connection with the train burning incident.

The commission has got 24 extensions in the last 12 years for probing the riot cases. It has probed 4145 communal violence related cases reported between February 27, 2002 and May 31, 2002. However, despite having the jurisdiction the commission never felt it necessary to question Modi at any point of time.

Meanwhile, the Supreme court appointed Special Investigation Team has given a clean chit to Modi and other office-bearers of his government in connection with the 2002 riots. A magisterial court has also upheld this exoneration.
 

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