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Best Bakery case: Teesta's former aide demands retrial

October 13, 2011 14:30 IST
A former aide of activist Teesta Setalvad has moved the Bombay high court seeking retrial of the 2002 Best Bakery case alleging that the latter not only fabricated evidence and falsely implicated innocent persons but also "managed" the witnesses.

Rais Khan Aziz Khan Pathan, in an affidavit, urged the high court to direct an appropriate court in Mumbai to conduct retrial of the case and record his evidence.

Khan, former coordinator of the Citizen for Justice and Peace, the Mumbai-based non-government organisation headed by Teesta, requested that notice be served on Teesta to explain her conduct and clarify allegations of fabricating evidence in the case.

Khan even demanded lie detector and polygraph tests on himself and Teesta to "bring out the truth".

The affidavit assumes significance as in April 2011, Shaikh Yasmeen Banu, a key prosecution witness in the case, had also filed an affidavit in the high court alleging she was "lured and misguided" by Teesta into giving false testimony against the 17 accused, of which nine were awarded life term by a Mumbai court.

Fourteen people who had taken refuge in the Best Bakery owned by the Shaikh family in Vadodara in Gujarat were killed by a mob on March 1, 2002, during the post-Godhra riots.

The appeals filed by the nine convicts in the sensational case are pending in the Bombay high court. Khan contended that on instructions of Teesta, he had in the past met Yasmeen in Baroda and requested her to shift to Mumbai where the retrial of the case was in progress.    

Yasmeen in her affidavit had accused Khan of cheating her and other witnesses for personal gains, which was denied by him.

Khan contended that he used to get funds from Teesta to organise press conferences for riot victims and meet relevant expenses. He alleged that getting payment for the victims was never Teesta's priority as she was only concerned to ensure that the witnesses get money.

"While witnesses used to get Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh, the victims were getting only Rs 5,000 (by Teesta)," Khan said. He further stated in the affidavit that he was put up at Sagar Hotel in the Nagpada area of South Mumbai by Teesta for eight months when the trial of Best Bakery case was in progress and was directed by her to keep a close watch on the witnesses.

"After the court issued summons to witnesses, she (Teesta) asked me to bring all of them to Mumbai even before police approached them", he said.

"Throughout the trial, witnesses were paid Rs 100 a day and the payment was made to them every weekly. Although the court order was to keep witnesses at Vasava Government Hostel in Worli, they were kept at Mariam apartment in Bhindi Bazaar".

"Neither the police nor the prosecutor ever inquired or asked how these witnesses were so punctually coming to the court for deposition and who is funding their expenses," he added.

It was stated further in the affidavit that police used to escort every witness to the court and back to the police guesthouse in Worli and during this period nobody was allowed to meet or speak to them.

"As per Teesta's instructions, I used to provide a mobile phone to each witness so that she can be in touch with them and guide them during their stay in Mumbai," he said.

"When the Gujarat police were searching for prime witness Zahira Shaikh, Teesta directed me over phone to reach an address in the Alkapuri area of Baroda. When I went there I found she was at a residence of a Muslim woman journalist working with a national daily," Khan said, adding "Muslim reporters were roped in sentimentally".

Khan said he had learnt that some of the victims and witnesses like Yasmeen had recently retracted from their earlier statements or affidavits prepared by Teesta's organisation and that they blamed him for cheating and manipulation.

"These witnesses have put me in a very awkward position and I am afraid that I might be prosecuted by the court for helping the witnesses to give false deposition in the court, which was actually not done by me at all", he added. out of total 73 witnesses, including Zaheera Shaikh, had turned hostile, saying they had seen nothing the night of the attack.

In February 2006, a Mumbai court had awarded lifer to the nine accused.

Zaheera and other witnesses who had turned hostile were later convicted for perjury.

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