Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow
The special court, holding the trial of 49 accused in the eight-year-old Babri mosque demolition case on Friday, dropped criminal proceedings against Union Home Minister L K Advani and 21 other prominent leaders of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
Among others let off by the court "on technical grounds" were Union Human Resources Development Minister M M Joshi, Union Sports Minister Uma Bharti, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, VHP president Ashok Singhal, Bajrang Dal chief Vinay Katiyar and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh, now an expelled BJP leader.
Besides, those to get reprieve with this verdict were several saffron-clad sadhus closely involved in the Ayodhya temple movement.
While earlier the names of only eight persons, including Advani, were put up for reprieve in the wake of a recent high court verdict, the special court added 13 names to the list.
Each of them belong to prominent Hindutva outfits.
Pronouncing the judgement in a crowded open court, presiding additional district and sessions judge S K Shukla said, "While the criminal proceedings against 22 accused persons were being dropped, the state government was free to open fresh cases against them only after issuing a fresh notification with the statutory prior concurrence of the high court."
He said, "The charges against the 21 accused had to be dropped in view of a recent verdict of the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court that had clearly laid down that the government had not fulfilled the mandatory binding of seeking the high court's permission before issuing the notification for the setting up of the special court to hear this case."
Giving his reasons for inclusion of 13 names in the list of those to be let
off in the case, the judge said, "There were two sets of persons identified on December 6 1992 in Ayodhya -- those who were had assembled in and
around the Babri mosque and those who had gathered at the nearby Ram Katha Kunj."
He identified Advani and 20 others as having been in the Ram Katha Kunj and therefore ordered their delinking from the case of others.
The demolition of the 16th century Moghul mosque in Ayodhya by mobs had sparked off nation-wide communal frenzy that had led to the killing of hundreds of people.
In all, 49 persons were charged for being directly or indirectly involved in the Demolition Act. However, two criminal cases were registered against eight prominent political leaders belonging to the BJP or its frontal organisation, the VHP, and another against 41 other persons.
While the trial was being held before a Lucknow-based special court,
intervention by the high court bench in February last gave a new direction to the case. The high court set aside the notification, issued by the government of October 8,1993 to set up a special court for the trial of all 49.
While P K Chaube, counsel for India's premier investigation agency, the
Central Bureau of Investigation, pressed for the prosecution of each of
the 49 accused in the mosque demolition case, I B Singh, representing some of the accused government officials pleaded that "each of the 49 accused deserved to be let off in the light of the recent high court judgement''.
Chaube sought to point out that even as the high court had set aside the notification on certain technical grounds, it had clearly upheld the charge-sheets
against the political leaders, who included M M Joshi, Uma Bharti,
Ashok Singhal, Acharya Giriraj Kishore, Sadhvi Rithambara and Vinay Katiyar, besides Advani, the question of letting them off did not arise.
The government's lapse in seeking this mandatory concurrence of the high court before issue of the second notification of October 8, rendered it
High Court judge Justice Jagdish Bhalla had stated, "I am of
the opinion that no illegality has been committed by the courts below, while
taking cognisance of a joint consolidated charge-sheet on the ground that all the
offences is almost the same, and therefore these offences cannot be separated
from each other irrespective of the fact that 49 first information reports were lodged on
the basis of which 49 criminal cases were registered by the police."
I B Singh, counsel for then Faizabad district magistrate R N Srivastava and senior superintendent of police D B Rai, who were also among the accused before the same court as Advani and others, sought to interpret the high court
order from a different angle and demanded reprieve for his clients on the basis
of that order.
"Since no separate charge-sheet was filed against these two officials, whose criminal charges were clubbed with those of the 41 others, and the CBI too had prepared a consolidated charge-sheet for all named and unnamed accused, they merited the same relief as granted to Advani and seven others by the high court," Singh argued before the special court.
Singh had also sought bifurcation of the consolidated charge-sheet filed by the CBI.
Singh's argument now stood upheld by the special court, granting reprieve to some top ruling party leaders, whose alleged involvement in the demolition had often generated much heat in Parliament.
Cases against the remaining 26 accused will resume on June 8,
when the court proposes to frame charges against them.
PTI adds: Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Rajnath Singh said his government would do whatever is "lawful" in the Ayodhya case and denied that it was trying to protect "anyone".
"We will go by whatever is lawful. What I said two months
ago is still relevant," Singh told reporters when asked for
his reaction on the court dropping proceedings.
On whether there was an attempt to protect some BJP
leaders, he said, "We are not trying to protect anyone... This question arises only when someone is a criminal."
CBI court to announce verdict on Advani's
plea for discharge
Verdict on charge-sheeted
BJP, VHP leaders reserved
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