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Last Updated: Friday, 12 September, 2003, 14:37 GMT 15:37 UK
Court raps Gujarat over riot case
India's Supreme Court has launched a scathing attack on the authorities in the state of Gujarat over their handling of a riot last year in which 12 Muslims were burned to death in a bakery by a Hindu mob.

Best Bakery after attack (Photo Sabrang Communications)
The Best Bakery, where 12 Muslims died
"I have no faith left in the prosecution and the Gujarat Government," Chief Justice VN Khare said on Friday.

Twenty-one Hindus were acquitted of killing the Muslims in a controversial ruling last June after many of the prosecution witnesses withdrew their evidence.

The incident came during rioting in Gujarat in which more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed.

"Eyewash"

The Supreme Court issued its comments on the Gujarat government on Friday, while hearing a petition from India's Human Rights Commission which is demanding a retrial in what has become known as the Best Bakery case, named after the bakery in the city of Baroda where the Muslims died.

If you can't punish the offenders, its better you quit
Chief Justice Khare

"If you fail to act then we will have to step in. We are not sitting here as mere spectators", Chief Justice Khare said.

And the three Supreme Court judges ordered the head of police in Gujarat and the state's top civil servant, the chief secretary, to appear before the court to explain their role in the controversy.

Human rights groups say the Best Bakery case is an example of how there has been little justice in Gujarat for the victims of last years riots.

Many Muslims in Gujarat now say they live in fear.

One of the witnesses, 19-years-old Zahira Sheikh, later fled the state.

She then said she had lied in court and not testified against the accused because she had been threatened by senior figures in the local organisation of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

After that, the Gujarat Government, led by Chief Minister Narendra Modi, launched an appeal against the acquittals in the Best Bakery case.

But the federal supreme court was damning in its consideration of Mr Modi's government's appeal, dismissing it as "an eyewash".

"You quit if you cannot prosecute the guilty. Democracy does not mean that you will not prosecute anyone," Chief Justice Khare said.

Request rejected

The court said it was the duty of the authorities to protect the people and punish the offenders but in this case it appeared that the state government did not perform its duty properly.

Zahira Sheikh (Photo Sabrang Communications)
Zahira Sheikh is demanding a retrial after she said she feared for her life

"You haven't started re-investigation or re-examination," the court told the Gujarat state government lawyer.

The state government, represented by Additional Solicitor General Mukul Rohatgi, said many riots have taken place in the country in the last 40 years with the guilty going unpunished.

He cited the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 and said many of the accused are still free.

The counsel then asked the court to give the government some more time so that it could amend its appeal challenging the acquittal of the Best Bakery accused.

But the court rejected his request.

The riots began after a suspected Muslim mob attacked a train and killed nearly 60 Hindu passengers.

The authorities in Gujarat have been accused of not stopping Hindu mobs taking revenge on Muslims.


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