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Trial begins in just 1 of 961 riot cases!

By Sourav Mukherjee & Amit Mukherjee

Ahmedaba: What a year it has been! A year that changed perceptions about Gujarat. And it all began with that attack on the train in Godhra on February 27, 2002. The next day and the coming days, weeks and months saw bloodbath in the city.

But, a year later, the process of justice is still crawling, unlike the Godhra case -which is witnessing rapid developments - most of the 5,067 rioters arrested in Ahmedabad are now out on bail. Law, as they say, takes its own course.

Of the total 961 riot-cases, evidence against the accused could not be gathered in 414 cases, resulting in non-filing of charge-sheets. Only one trial has begun out of the remaining 509 cases in 30 police stations! In 38 other cases investigations are yet to conclude.

None of the big names alleged to have led the marauding mobs,which killed nearly 500 persons in Ahmedabad, have been booked. The police officials say, "There is no evidence against the big wigs."

The 'fall guys' in the riot cases are mostly those from to the lower strata; like the case of 28 residents of Naroda's Chharanagar who are among 38 arrested for killing at Naroda-Patia.

While there is no move to arrest the "master-minds", experts say that the cases are far from reaching their logical conclusion. Trials in 509 cases are yet to begin as not a single case has evidence and related documents.

According to officials in prosecution department, not even 3% of the cases have been committed for trial. "Most of the cases still continue to have lacunae due to which they have not been able to pass the preliminary scrutiny of the metropolitan courts."

These courts analyse charge sheets and the case-related documents before allowing trial. Till date, the metropolitan courts have found only about 25 cases fit for trial. Of these 'fit' cases, hearing has begun in just one. The case pertained to the massacre of 39 people, including former MP Ehsan Jafri, at the Meghaninagar's Gulbarg Society.

Case documents of Gulbarg Society were returned to the office of the principal judge of Ahmedabad sessions court.

According to senior public prosecutor, L Patel, "Hearing on Gulbarg Society case had to be postponed because the crime branch filed supplementary charge sheet during the trial. The court suggested that the case would continue once the supplementary charge sheet which named more of accused is also committed for trial."

Though all the accused who were arrested have secured bail, a large number still remains at large. Of the named rioters, 180 are absconding in cases being investigated. The list includes eight accused of Naroda-Patia, 11 of Gulbarg Society, four for killing two at Rakhial and two for the murder of a government employee Devanand Solanki, at Gomtipur.

The police is still publishing advertisements threatening the absconders of strict action like attachment of property. Defence lawyers feel that these accused may be declared as proclaimed offenders.

Law minister Ashok Bhatt, meanwhile, ruled out any special courts to try out the riot-related cases. "We will be setting up fast-track courts but riot-cases cannot be tried in them."