SC verdict in Zakia Jafri case goes against right to liberty, say 92 former civil servants

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The Supreme Court’s judgement in the Zakia Jafri case overturns the principle of the Right to life and liberty against questionable actions by the state, a group of 92 former civil servants said on Wednesday.

They issued a statement on the case under the banner of the Constitutional Conduct Group.

Zakia Jafri is the wife of former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, who was among 69 persons killed when a mob went on a rampage at the Gulberg Society in Ahmedabad on February 28, 2022. She and activist Teesta Setalvad had challenged a Special Investigation Team report on the 2002 Gujarat riots that had cleared Narendra Modi, who was then the chief minister of the state.

The Supreme Court dismissed the petition on June 24, saying that the petition had been filed “to keep the pot boiling for ulterior design”.

A day later, Setalvad and Gujarat’s former Director General of Police RB Sreekumar were arrested for allegedly committing forgery and fabricating evidence in a case related to the 2002 Gujarat riots. Former Indian Police Service officer Sanjiv Bhatt, who is serving life imprisonment in a 1990 custodial death case, was also named in the case.

The group of retired civil servants said on Wednesday said that the implications of the Supreme Court judgement were extremely serious.

“The court has come out with a doctrine which enjoins the state to arrest and prosecute persons who dare to question the findings of investigating agencies, if the court decides that these findings are beyond reproach,” their statement read.

The former civil servants said that the Gujarat Police’s action against Setalvad, Sreekumar and Bhatt clearly took place because the court told authorities to put those who “kept the pot boiling” in the dock.

“Has the Supreme Court now decided that appellants before it and their counsel should be proceeded against merely for being assiduous and persistent in their appeal?” the signatories to the statement said.

The group noted reports by the National Human Rights Commission and amicus curiae (friend of court) Raju Ramachandran had earlier said that investigation was required to look into Modi’s role in the riots. It also quoted a Supreme Court judgement from April 12, 2004 that said that those responsible for protecting life and property and ensuring the fairness of investigation seemed to have “shown no real anxiety”.

The Supreme Court had made the remarks while quashing the acquittal of 21 accused persons in the Best Bakery case, which was also related to the 2002 riots. The court had also remarked that “modern day ‘Neros’ were looking elsewhere when Best Bakery and innocent children and helpless women were burning, and were probably deliberating how the perpetrators of the crime can be saved or protected”.

The former civil servants on Wednesday asked whether the right to approach courts could be treated “in so cavalier and revengeful a fashion” that those seeking justice are put behind bars.

“Shall we henceforth presume that natural justice can be given the go-by as a cardinal principle of our jurisprudence and people condemned without being heard?” they said.

The group urged the Supreme Court to withdraw its observations against Setalvad and other activists, and order the unconditional release of those who had been arrested.

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