15 March 2005
Meerut massacre: No light at end of tunnel
By Siddharth Varadarajan
NEW DELHI, MARCH 14. More than two years after the Supreme Court — anguished by endless delays in the prosecution of 19 Uttar Pradesh Provincial Armed Constabulary officials for the killing of 42 Muslim men from Hashimpura in Meerut in 1987 — transferred the sensational case from Ghaziabad to Delhi, charges against the accused have yet to be framed. There is no telling when the trial will actually start.
At the last hearing on Friday, R.K. Jain, additional district and sessions judge, Tees Hazari, Delhi, set a new date for completing the arguments on charge since one of the accused is in the custody of the Varanasi police on another murder charge and was not present in court. The prior two hearings also ended in deferment because one of the accused died and this had to be verified. Before that, the prosecutor and the defence counsel had both requested an adjournment. And on and on the story has gone all the way back to September 2002, when the apex court shifted the matter to Delhi.
The fate of the case — involving the arrest and subsequent cold-blooded execution of dozens of Muslims — is a chastening reminder of the enormous odds the victims of mass crimes must battle in their quest for justice. It also underlines the pressing need for time-bound trials in all incidents involving mass crimes.
A review of the case record makes it clear that the presence of "secular" parties such as the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party or the Congress in the Uttar Pradesh government has not made the pursuit of justice any easier. Indeed, much of the past two years was wasted because the Mulayam Singh Yadav Government simply did not bother to appoint a proper special public prosecutor (SPP).
From October 2002 to March 2004, there was no SPP and the case could not proceed. The Uttar Pradesh Government then named as SPP a lawyer who was not qualified in terms of experience and had to be removed by the court after counsel for the victims complained. In November 2004, the State Government named a new SPP, S. Adlakha, but the victims' counsel are not satisfied with his grasp of what is after all a complex criminal case.
"At first, the State of Uttar Pradesh appointed an SPP who lacked the necessary legal qualifications as mandated by law," Vrinda Grover, a counsel for the Hashimpura complainants, told The Hindu . "Now the new SPP has till date only sought adjournments, and arguments on charge have yet to commence. Surely a case of this gravity deserves an SPP who has considerable experience and expertise both in prosecution as well as in criminal trials."
On his part, Mr. Adlakha insisted that he was fully qualified. "I have handled many criminal cases as a defence lawyer," he told The Hindu . Asked how many murder cases he had prosecuted, he said "many" but declined to provide a specific example.
Views of victims ignored
According to Ms. Grover, the victims have a right to be consulted in the choice of public prosecutor. "The Hashimpura victims have pursued this case with all the meagre resources at their command, and despite the Supreme Court's opinion in the Best Bakery case that in the appointment of the SPP in such matters suggestions from affected persons may be taken into account, the Uttar Pradesh Government has repeatedly chosen to ignore their representations."
A charge sheet against the 19 PAC men was first filed before the court of the chief judicial magistrate in Ghaziabad in May 1996, following an investigation by the State Government's Crime Branch Central Investigation Department (CB-CID). The CB-CID, which was asked to probe the killings in 1988, submitted its report only in 1994. The report was never made public and its findings would probably have been given a quiet burial but for a petition filed by the victims before the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court in 1995.
However, once the Ghaziabad charge sheet was filed in 1996, the case made no progress. The State Government failed to ensure that the accused were arrested and produced in court. Despite the fact that all of them were on active duty with the Government and drawing salaries, it said the men could not be located. Following news reports about the Government's lack of interest in the case, the accused were finally produced in court in 2000. Again nothing happened, prompting the Supreme Court's intervention in 2002.
While it is expected that the accused will use every ruse in the game to try and delay the trial, it is the indifferent attitude of the Mulayam Government, which has Ms. Grover worried.
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