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The CBI Is As Guilty As The Courts For The Unconscionable Delay In Babri Verdict

25 years is too long.

24/04/2017 4:58 PM IST | Updated 01/05/2017 11:49 AM IST
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The Supreme Court, in its 19 April judgement on the Babri demolition case, revived the conspiracy charge against senior leaders of the BJP, including L K Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti and Kalyan Singh (though the last named would be prosecuted after he demits office as governor).

This verdict has evoked a somewhat cynical reaction from many people: the case was originally filed in 1992 and fresh charges are being slapped in 2017. During these 25 years, several accused like Bal Thackeray and Giriraj Kishore have died; by the time the final decree is issued (it may take several more years, as the SC has set a limit of two years for the trial court but then by the time it goes through the stages of appeal in the High Court and the Supreme Court, allowance must be given for another few years), some more accused may be possibly dead.

The Babri case is as much a reminder of the maxim that justice delayed is justice denied as it is that the CBI has always been a caged parrot.

Is that not a mockery of our judicial process? That has been the major refrain of the post-verdict debate in the last few days. It is natural, and it is right, that the accusing finger is pointed at the delayed judicial process.

But what has largely not been part of the debate is the fact that the CBI, our servile investigative agency, also contributed to the unconscionable delay in proceeding with the Babri case.

Take a look at some of the facts: on 6 December, 1992, the day of the Babri demolition, two FIRs were lodged: the first one (No 197) was against unknown kar sewaks for defiling a place of public worship and promoting enmity between two religious communities. And the second FIR (No 198) was filed against eight BJP\RSS leaders, including Advani, Joshi and Bharati, for conduct conducing to public mischief, under Section 153 A, 153 B and 505 of the Indian Penal Code, along with other sections.

Both these cases were committed to a special court set up at Lalitpur (Rae Bareilly). The Special Magistrate there added Section 120 B of the IPC (pertaining to criminal conspiracy) to the case. On 8 September 1993, the state government issued a notification, in consultation with the Allahabad High Court, for setting up another Special Sessions Court in Lucknow for trying these cases. By this order, FIR No 197 stood transferred to Lucknow.

On 5 October 1993, the CBI filed a consolidated chargesheet at the Lucknow Session Court against 48 persons that included the originally named BJP\RSS leaders in the 6 December 1992 FIR (No 198), and added other names such as that of Bal Thackeray and Kalyan Singh to the list.

To facilitate the process of the joint trial, the Uttar Pradesh government amended the earlier (9 September, 1993 notification) on 8th October, 1993 and shifted the case pertaining to FIR No 198 (involving the eight BJP\RSS leaders) to the Lucknow Sessions Court.

On 9 September, 1997, the Sessions Court in Lucknow issued an order to the effect that there was a prima facie case against all the 48 accused for framing the charges of criminal conspiracy under Section 120-B of the IPC.

The accused BJP\RSS leaders filed a revision petition against the order with the High Court of Allahabad. The High Court, in its judgement delivered on 12 February, 2001, held that the UP government notification of 8 October, 1993 was fruitless as the government had not consulted the High Court before issuing the notification.

The High Court further held that as the 8 October, 1993 notification was rendered invalid, the Lucknow Sessions Court had no locus standi to deliver the 9 September, 1997 order that sought to adjudicate on the matter involving eight senior BJP\RSS leaders (FIR No 198).

It may be emphasised that the High Court, at the same time, upheld the framing of the criminal conspiracy charges against all other accused.

The CBI decided not to challenge the [2002] UP government order in the court. The servility of the CBI to the powers-that- be was clearly evident.

It was clear that the criminal conspiracy charges against eight leaders were struck down on technical grounds. The High Court said as much when it told the CBI that it was a curable legal infirmity and the investigative body should quickly move to set it right.

And then began the shenanigans of the CBI. It, of course, sent out a formal request to the UP government on 16 June, 2001 asking it to rectify the mistake in the issuing of the 8 October, 1993 notification, but the latter refused to accede to the request in its response to the CBI, given after 15 months (28 September, 2002).

And the CBI chose to sit quietly. It decided not to challenge the UP government order in the court. The servility of the CBI to the powers-that- be was clearly evident.

In 1993, when the CBI filed the chargesheet against Advani and others, the Congress government was in power at the centre and Uttar Pradesh was under the President's rule, which amounted to proxy rule by the Centre. The Congress had a political interest in expediting the case against the BJP leaders and the CBI, as per dictates, carried out an impressive investigation in a record time.

But in 2001, when the Allahabad High Court judgement was delivered, the political scene at both the Centre and the state of Uttar Pradesh had changed. At both Delhi and Lucknow, the BJP had come to power, with Atal Behari Vajpayee as Prime Minister and L K Advani as Union Home Minister and Rajnath Singh as UP Chief Minister.

No wonder, The CBI began to act as per the dictates of the new bosses. When following the direction of the Allahabad High Court, it sent a formal request to the Rajnath government to rectify the defect of the 1993 notification, the UP government—unsurprisingly—slept on it.

The Congress had a political interest in expediting the case against the BJP leaders and the CBI, as per dictates, carried out an impressive investigation in a record time.

It is noteworthy that the Mayawati government, which eventually rejected the CBI request in 2002, was then in office with the outside support of the BJP. It is again not surprising that the CBI chose not to challenge the government's order in the court as it had to kowtow to the political masters (read the BJP-led government at the Centre).

The Congress came to power at the Centre in 2004 and the CBI was now ready to serve the new masters. But it could not immediately intervene in the ongoing court case with a diametrically opposite mandate. It got its chance in May 2010 when the Allahabad High Court gave its verdict upholding the May 2001 trial court order that had dropped the proceedings against 21 BJP\RSS leaders who were charged with criminal conspiracy.

The CBI then challenged the High Court order in the Supreme Court in February 2011 (it demonstrated the CBI's inefficiency in filing the appeal within the stipulated 90 days and the investigative body had to seek the Supreme Court's indulgence while praying for the waiver for the delay).

The apex court yielded to the CBI's plea but the case dragged on for another six years in the Supreme Court itself. Finally, on 19 April, 2017, the SC verdict came. For many, justice – though belated –seems to have been done.

But then the Babri case is as much a reminder of the maxim that justice delayed is justice denied as it is that the CBI has always been a caged parrot.

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