9 Oct, 2017 should go down as a day to remember for all Hindus. If the events that unfolded in our courts yesterday can spark a realization in ordinary citizens that our legal system and elites have failed us, that we are yet to be freed of the colonial mindsets that we thought had been junked on 15 Aug 1947, then it would be a massive positive from what can only be described as a black day for Bharat.
The two judgements, one by the Supreme Court and the other by the Gujarat High Court, show how disconnected the ideas of law & justice debated by most of our elites have become from the real, lived experience of millions of the ‘majority’ community.
No Cracker Sale in Delhi-NCR, says SC
The Supreme Court on Monday banned the sale of firecrackers in Delhi-NCR till November 1 and accordingly suspended all existing licences held by firecracker shops. The ostensible reason – clean air. The ban comes in force ten days before Diwali and ends ten days later.
The decision was given by a three-judge Bench on a petition filed by three children who complained about the alarming rise in pollution levels in the city around Diwali, claiming it to be a violation of their fundamental right to breathe clean air under Article 21 (right to live).
The petitioners are, in fact, the infant children of three practicing lawyers of the Supreme Court – advocates Gopal Sankaranarayanan, Saurabh Bhasin and Amit Bhandari. They first filed the petition in 2015.
Petitions over ‘Dirty’ Hindu festivals
The legal rigmarole that usually unfolds around the time of any Hindu festival like Holi, Dahi Handi, Ganesh Visarjan and Jallikattu was seen in the case of Diwali as well.
The Supreme Court first banned sale of firecrackers in Delhi-NCR on 25 Nov, 2016. A Bench of then Chief Justice TS Thakur and Justices AK Sikri and SA Bobde had issued this order in “public interest” equating fire crackers with “burning of money.”
Then on the plea of fire cracker manufacturers, on 12 Sept this year a SC bench comprising Justices M B Lokur and Deepak Gupta lifted “for the time being” its order of suspending the permanent licences for sale and retail of fire crackers within the National Capital Region (NCR) by modifying its order of November last year.
The apex court, however, said its order lifting the suspension of permanent licences might require a review after Diwali, depending on the ambient air quality after the festival. It also asked the concerned authorities to consider encouraging display of fireworks through community participation rather than individual bursting of crackers.
The top court appointed a committee, to be headed by the chairperson of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), to conduct a research on the impact of bursting fire crackers during the festive season of Dussehra and Diwali on the health of the people. The court also directed the Delhi Police to reduce the number of temporary licences by 50 per cent of those granted last year and cap it at 500.
The bench directed the police authorities and district magistrates to ensure that fire crackers are not burst in “silence zones”, an area of at least 100 metres from hospitals, health care centres, educational institutions, courts and religious places or any other area that has been declared a ‘silence zone’ by the authorities. The top court said the committee appointed by it would furnish a report of its research on or before December 31.
Yet, on 5 Oct, another SC bench of Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan said it would hear a plea seeking restoration of its last year’s order banning firecrackers in the Delhi-National Capital Region. And this bench ruled yesterday that the ban on cracker sales in NCR would be in effect 10 days before and after Diwali.
When the earlier SC bench had given restricted permission to sell firecrackers, issued strict guidelines for bursting of crackers and asked an expert committee to furnish a scientific report by 31 Dec, what was the rush to ban cracker sale just before Diwali?
And it is not like past studies have not been carried out which show that firecrackers burst on Diwali are a minor factor as far as winter air pollution in Delhi goes. An empirical study by IIT-Kanpur, which was commissioned by the Delhi Government in 2016, found that the pollution levels in the month of November 2013 were higher than the day on which Diwali was celebrated. The data clearly suggests that the pollution caused by Diwali is extremely short-lived (less than 24 hrs), and is no worse than the usual sporadic spikes of pollutants that are observed in Delhi around the year.
Evidence suggests that construction dust may be the biggest culprit, when it comes to air pollution.
Godhra Carnage Not ‘Rarest of Rare’ cases, says Gujarat HC
The Gujarat high court on Monday commuted the death penalty awarded by a lower court to 11 convicts in the 2002 Godhra train burning case into life imprisonment. The division bench of Justices Anant S Dave and GR Udhwani said “The state has failed to maintain law and order, so has the railways.”
Fifty-nine Hindus, including 27 women and 10 children, were burnt to death after the Sabarmati Express was torched in Godhra on February 27, 2002. The incident triggered large-scale communal riots in Gujarat. The lawyer representing the victims said that they would approach the Supreme Court against commuting of sentences.
The 11 whose death sentence has been commuted to life are –
Bilal Ismail Abdul Majid Sujela alias Bilal Haji, Abdul Razak Mohammad Kurkur, Ramjani Binyamin Behra, Hasan Ahmed Charkha alias Lalu, Jabir Binyamin Behra, Mehboob Khalid Chanda, Salim alias Salman Yusuf Sattar Zarda, Siraj Mohammad Abdul Meda alias Bala, Irfan Abdul Majid Ganchi Kalandar alias Irfan Bhopo, Irfan Mhammad Hanifabdul Gani Pataliya and Mehbub Ahmed Yusuf Hasan alais Latiko.
As per the trial court judgement convicting 31 accused for the Godhra train carnage –
“ Conspiracy came to be hatched on the previous day i.e. 26-2-2002 during the meeting held in Aman Guest House between the conspirators Haji Bilal, Faruk Bhana, Abdul Rajak and Salim Panwala.
 As per the plan, Abdul Rajak Kurkur and Salim Panwala both had gone to Kalabhai Petrol Pump on moped scooty on 26-2-2002 at about 10.00 p.m. taking with them other conspirators Salim Jarda, Shaukat
Ahmed Charkha @ Lalu, Imran Ahmed Bhatuk @ Sheru, Hasan Ahmed Charkha, Mehbub Khalid Chanda and Jabir Binyamin Behra in a Three Wheeler Tempo No. GJ-6 U- 8074, and purchased 140 litres loose petrol in 7 different Carboys and then, stored it behind Aman Guest House, in the house of Abdul Rajak Kurkur. Thereafter, a meeting of these conspirators was again held in the Room No.8 of the said Aman Guest House.
 As per the said instruction the assailants by turning disk of ACP situated on the outside of the Coaches, stopped the train near ‘A‘ Cabin.
 Then immediately, Abdul Rajak Kurkur and absconding accused Salim Panwala taking with them a Carboy containing petrol proceeded towards ‘A‘ Cabin on a Red coloured M-80 Bajaj moped scooty.
 Mehbub Yakub Mitha @ Popa, Mehbub Khalid Chanda, Ayub Abdulgani Patliya, Yunus Abdulhaq Ghadiyali etc. went near Coach S-2 with weapons and started breaking window glasses ect. and also thrown a burning rag inside the said Coach S-2.
 Abdul Rajak Kurkur and absconding accused Salim Panwala went near Coach S-6 and poured petrol from the broken window, just near the closed door (towards engine/front side) of the Coach S-6.
 Mehbub Ahmed Yusuf Hasan @ Latiko who had with him a big knife (Chharo for cutting meat) first made holes on the upper part of the Carboys and then, cut the canvas vestibule of Coach S-7, situated between the Coaches S-6 and S-7 (corridor).
 Mehbub Ahmed Hasan and Jabir Binyamin Behra climbed up the said corridor place and by use of force with kicks etc, opened the eastern side sliding door of Coach S-6.
 Mehbub Ahmed Hasan @ Latiko, Jabir Binyamin Behra and Saukat Ahmed Charkha @ Lalu then entered into Coach S-6 from the said sliding door with Carboys containing petrol.
 Absconding accused Saukat Lalu opened the East-South corner door of the Coach S-6, from where the remaining three i.e. Imran Sheru, Irfan Bhobha, Rafiq Bhatuk entered in the Coach with Carboys and poured petrol.
 Ramjani Binyamin Behra and Hasan Lalu were throwing petrol from the outside of the Coach, towards windows.
 Hasan Ahmed Charkha @ Hasan Lalu put on fire coach S-6 by through burning rag (kakdo).
 If there was no plan at all, it would have not been possible to gather muslim persons with deadly weapons within five to six minutes and to and to reach near ‘A‘Cabin on the railway tracks.
 Godhra is known for its past history of communal riots.
 For Godhra, this is not the first incident of burning alive innocent persons belonged to Hindu community.”
The prosecution in the case had said, “The petrol Cans which were stored at Aman Guest House were taken in a loading rickshaw, near the “A” Cabin and the bogey was set on fire by putting burning rags inside the compartment and through broken windows by the miscreants. Few culprits had forcibly entered into the compartment by cutting open the vestibule and petrol was emptied in that compartment. The passengers were terrorized by beating them and pelting of stones and were prevented from coming out from the burning compartment, provocative slogans were shouted from the loudspeaker from a nearby mosque (“Pakistan Zindabad”, “Hindustan Murdabad” and “Hindu Kafiro ko Jala dalo”, i.e. burn the Hindu unbelievers) to arouse passions in the violent mob. Fire tankers were prevented from going near the place of the incident.”
The high court upheld the conviction of 20 other people who were sentenced to life imprisonment by the special court. The special court had acquitted 63 others due to lack of evidence, which notably included prime accused Maulana Umarji.
But even after the 2011 verdict, other conspirators have been arrested – including the mastermind Farooq Bhana, Secretary of the District Congress Committee in 2002 – and are under trial.
This is how Dinesh Goswami, a survivor, who was on S6, the Sabarmati Express coach that was set on fire at Godhra station that day, reacted to the High Court decision –
“I was 31 years old when the incident happened,” he added. “I was one of the lucky ones who managed to escape. I could not recognise the charred bodies of my friends. This is what we call, in law, a rarest-of-the-rare case. The train burning made people so angry that the entire state erupted in violence. It was not the VHP or the BJP or the Congress or any political party. It was the anger of people because of what had happened to the kar sevaks.”
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