THE judiciary needs to introspect by taking the Babri Masjid demolition case as a test case to get to the root of why it has taken over 24 years for such an important case to get to the stage of a final charge-sheet being filed in a trial court.
The Supreme Court’s observation that “prima facie” the trial court order exonerating BJP veteran L.K. Advani and some others in the Babri Masjid demolition case was not correct and that it was considering reviving the conspiracy charge against them stands to reason but would it not delay trial in the much-delayed case inordinately? The sudden turn to the case involving the demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya town of Uttar Pradesh on December 6, 1992 came on an appeal filed in the apex court by the CBI in 2011during the UPA era against the dropping of the conspiracy charge against L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti, Vinay Katiyar, Sadhvi Ritambhara, Giriraj Kishore and Vishnu Hari Dalmiya. Noting that “there is something very peculiar going on in this case,” a bench of Justices Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Rohinton F. Nariman said it would examine in detail why the conspiracy charge was dropped on mere technical grounds and never revived all these years.
The Babri case is a sad commentary on our judicial system for the fact that it has taken over 24 years in the trial court and could still take considerably more time since the Supreme Court has now told the CBI to file a supplementary charge-sheet by including the conspiracy charge. In the intervening period, some of the accused have passed away and some others are in the evening of their lives. Indeed, there are two trial courts at work—in Lucknow and Rae Bareli. In Lucknow, the accused face charges of demolition; those in Rae Bareli are being tried for allegedly instigating the crowd through speeches. The conspiracy charges against Advani and some others were dropped in Lucknow on the grounds that the FIR related only to “kar sevaks”. The apex court’s direction that the cases in the two trial courts be combined and a joint trial of both the criminal cases be held in one court, preferably at Lucknow, has come belatedly. While the apex court has questioned the delay in deciding the case, would it not delay things even further if the joint trial of the two cases were now to be held afresh? Most of the surviving witnesses may well be required to be examined again. Even when the trial court gives its verdict, there would be higher courts that would be open for appeal. The case could go on and on and the saying ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ could fit in appropriately here.
Instructively, the Liberhan Commission which had been appointed by the then Congress regime at the Centre to go into the Babri demolition issue had indicted the Sangh Parivar 17 years and 48 extensions after it was appointed. All that came to nought as the judicial process went on endlessly for various reasons. Significantly, Haji Mehboob, who is one of the original petitioners in the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi title suit has pleaded that the CBI ought not press for restoration of the conspiracy case against top leaders of the party with a BJP-led government in power. But the Supreme Court has set March 22 as the next date of hearing when a decision on reviving the case against Advani and others who were exonerated of the conspiracy charge ‘on technical grounds’ would be taken up.
The apex court has pointed out in its observations of Monday that the CBI appeal was moved nine months after the High Court order confirmed the trial court verdict. Consequently, the agency has been asked by the bench to first explain the delay. It is difficult not to believe that the CBI acts as the handmaiden of the government in power. Much discussion has taken place of vesting functional autonomy on the CBI but successive governments have succumbed to the temptation to use the agency for their own ends. It is some relief that the apex court has a sobering influence on the CBI and one can only hope that it would now deal with the Babri case with speed and dispassionateness.
The judiciary too needs to introspect by taking the Babri Masjid demolition case as a test case to get to the root of why it has taken over 24 years for such an important case to get to the stage of a final charge-sheet being filed in a trial court. There is a huge pile-up of cases in our various courts, especially the lower courts where an estimated three crore cases are pending. We have about 13 judges per one million people in our country where the ideal requirement is 50 per million. This has been repeated from various forums ad nauseam but there is no redressal in sight. The result is that the common man’s faith in the judicial system has been rudely shaken. Judicial reforms are sorely needed and it would be in the fitness of things if a case like the Babri case were to be a trigger for them.