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India: All 32 accused in Babri Mosque demolition case acquitted

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BY S VENKAT NARAYAN
Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, September 30:

A special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh state on Wednesday acquitted all 32 accused in the Babri Mosque demolition case almost 28 years after a mob razed the 16th century structure in Ayodhya.

The accused faced charges like criminal conspiracy, rioting, promoting enmity between different groups, and unlawful assembly.

The demolition triggered some of the deadliest riots since the partition riots in 1947 that left about 2,000 dead. The acquitted included veteran Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders Lal Krishna Advani (92), and Murli Manohar Joshi (86).

CBI Judge Surendra Kumar Yadav ordered the acquittal by citing a lack of evidence. He said the probe agency could not prove the authenticity of the audio and video evidence submitted. He said the demolition was not pre-planned and the accused tried to stop “anti-social” elements who razed the mosque.

Former Union minister Uma Bharti, and Kalyan Singh, who was Uttar Pradesh chief minister at the time of the demolition, are among other accused acquitted in the case. They have tested positive for Covid-19 and are hospitalised, and could not attend the court proceedings on Wednesday. Singh’s government was dismissed over the demolition.

Sadhvi Rithambhara, Lallu Singh, Pawan Pandey, Vinay Katiyar, and Champat Rai were among the accused present in the CBI court.

The verdict came months after the Supreme Court in November 2019 ruled in favour of building a temple at the 2.77-acre site in Ayodhya, where the mosque once stood. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had attended a ceremony to mark the beginning of the temple construction in August.

Security was heightened on the court premises. No one except the defence, CBI lawyers, and the accused were allowed inside the courtroom. Entry was permitted through only one gate and barricades were put on nearby roads to restrict traffic.

Supporters of the accused were stopped at the barricades as they started arriving at the court. Journalists were denied access to the court building, and most of the shops in the vicinity remained closed.

The CBI took over the demolition case a week after the mosque was demolished on December 6, 1992. Two simultaneous criminal trials in Lucknow and Rae Bareli were conducted until the Supreme Court shifted all cases to Lucknow in 2017. The top court in July last year extended the timeframe for completing the criminal trial by six months and also set a deadline of nine months for the final order.

The nine-month deadline expired on April 19. The Supreme Court on May 8 set the new deadline of August 31 for the judgment. In August, it again extended the deadline till September 30.

CBI produced 351 witnesses and 600 documents as evidence during the course of the trial and the special court framed charges against 49 accused. Seventeen of the accused died during the course of the trial.

Veteran Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Lal Krishna Advani welcomed the judgement by the special CBI court which acquitted him and 31 other accused in the Babri mosque demolition case.

“I wholeheartedly welcome the judgement. The judgement vindicates my personal and BJP’s belief and commitment toward the Ram Janmabhoomi movement,” Advani said after the verdict by the court in Lucknow.

He, along with another accused Murli Manohar Joshi, participated in the proceedings through video conferencing. “It’s a historic decision by the court. This proves that no conspiracy was hatched for the December 6 incident in Ayodhya. Our programme and rallies were not part of any conspiracy. We are happy, everyone should now be excited about Ram Mandir’s construction,” said Joshi.

The CBI, which went into the case, produced 351 witnesses and 600 documents as evidence before the court. Charges were framed against 48 people, but 16 had died during the course of the trial. Over two dozen of 32 accused were present

The verdict given by the special CBI court in the Babri demolition case has been hailed by many political leaders and Union ministers. Defence minister Rajnath Singh took the lead in congratulating the 32 who were acquitted.

However, the opposition Congress Party said the verdict runs counter to the 2019 Supreme Court judgment as also the “Constitutional spirit”. The party asked the Central and Uttar Pradesh governments to file an appeal against the decision of the special court.

“Every Indian, who has innate faith in the Constitution as also in the spirit of communal amity and brotherhood, expects and urges the Central and State Governments to file an appeal against the decision of the Special Court founded in error and follow the letter of the law and the Constitution, without any partiality and pre-meditated prejudice. This is the true calling of rule of law and our Constitution,” he added.


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AG not bound by its recommendations, yet to receive report

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PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC is not bound by recommendations made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) into the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, or presidential directives in that regard, according to authoritative sources.

They said that the AG couldn’t under any circumstances initiate legal proceedings until he had received the full PCoI report.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the PCoI report on Feb 1. The President’s Office delivered a set of PCoI reports to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on Feb 23, a day after the report was presented to the cabinet of ministers. The Island raised the matter with relevant authorities in the wake of a section of the media reporting the PCoI recommending punitive measures against former President Maithripala Sirisena, Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, IGP Pujitha Jayasundera, Chief of State Intelligence Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena, Chief of National Intelligence retired DIG Sisira Mendis and All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader and Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Rishad Bathiudeen et al over the Easter Sunday carnage.

Sources pointed out that due to the inordinate delay in sharing the PCoI report with the AG, the department hadn’t been able to take preliminary measures required to initiate the proceedings. Sources said that a team of officers would take at least six weeks or more to examine the report before tangible measures could be taken.

With the AG scheduled to retire on May 24, 2021, even if the AG Department received the P CoI it would be quite a tough task to initiate proceedings ahead of retirement, sources said. However, in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in last October, both the AG and the IGP could receive extensions beyond 60 at the President’s discretion.

 

Dappula de Livera received an Acting appointment as the AG a week after the Easter Sunday carnage whereas his predecessor Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, was elevated to Chief Justice.

Responding to another query, sources said that the Attorney General two weeks ago requested Secretary to the President for a copy of the P CoI. However, the AG was yet to receive one, sources said. In spite of the AG not receiving a P CoI copy, the AG had instructed the IGP to obtain a copy of the report when he requested the police to complete investigations into the Easter Sunday carnage. The AG issued specific instructions after having examined police files pertaining to the investigations.

The IGP, too, hadn’t received a copy so far though some sections of the report were in the public domain.

Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage displayed at a live political programme on Derana a copy of the P CoI report he received at the cabinet meeting earlier in the day.

Sources said that the Attorney General’s Department couldn’t decide on a course of action in respect of the Easter carnage on the basis of a section of the report. In terms of the Commission of Inquiry Act (Section 24), the AG enjoyed significant powers/authority in respect of investigations; sources said adding that the Department urgently required both the P CoI report and police investigations report. The Attorney General’s Department has raised the delay in receiving a P CoI report amidst the Catholic Church attacking the government over the same issue.

Sources said that ministerial committee appointed to study the P CoI report couldn’t decide on how to proceed with the recommendations and the matter was entirely in the hands of the AG. Sources pointed out that the delay on the part of the government to release the report had received the attention of sections of the international media, including the New York Times. Public Security Minister retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera having met Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith at the Bishop’s House on Dec 8, 2020 said that the AG would get a copy of the P CoI report once the President received it. Minister Weerasekera said that the CID had handed over the relevant files after having completed investigations into eight blasts. Referring to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) report on the Easter Sunday carnage, the former Navy Chief of Staff said that all such documents would have to be brought to one place and considered before initiating legal proceedings. Acknowledging that there could be delays, lawmaker Weerasekera said that on the instructions of the Attorney General a 12-member team of lawyers was working on the case. The minister vowed to expose the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday attacks. Investigations continued while some of those wanted were overseas, the minister said.

The minister acknowledged that the Attorney General couldn’t proceed without the P CoI report. Minister Weerasekera reiterated that once the President received the P CoI report, it would be sent to the Attorney General. The minister said that there were documents two to three feet high that needed scrutiny. The minister assured comprehensive investigation. The minister said that investigations pertaining to eight blasts had been completed and the reports handed over to the AG. However, the Attorney General had found shortcomings in those investigations.

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JVP picks holes in PCoI report

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By Saman Indrajith

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday bombings had failed to identify the mastermind of , the JVP said yesterday.

Addressing the media at the party headquarters in Pelawatte, JVP Propaganda Secretary MP Vijitha Herath said that the PCoI report had levelled accusations against former President Maithripala Sirisena, former IGP and head of intelligence for their dereliction of duty, shirking of responsibilities and not taking action to prevent the attacks and negligence. There were reference to the causes of the terror attacks and actions to be taken to avoid such attacks and the influence of extremist organisations. “However, there is no mention of the mastermind of the attacks, the handlers of the attackers and those whose interests the carnage served. It is also not mentioned whether there has been any foreign or local organisation behind those attacks. As per the PCoI report the attack took place as a result of culmination of extremism.

“According to the PCoI the extremist activities were a result of the prevailing political situation then. The entire nation was waiting to see who was responsible and who masterminded those attacks. The PCoI has failed to identify the true culprits responsible for the terror attacks. The report says that the leader of the suicide cadres killed himself in the attacks and it was a puzzle. That means those who are actually responsible for the attacks are still at large. The report does not provide exact details of the sources of the attacks. The PCoI had sittings for one year and five months. It summoned various persons and got their statements but it has failed to shed any light on the terror attacks. Everybody knows that the top leaders of the government and heads of security and intelligence establishments failed in their duties. Ranil Wickremesinghe was the second in command and he too is bound by the responsibility but the PCoI report fails to identify him as one of the persons against whom legal action should be instituted. The PCoI has treated Wickremesinghe and former President Maithripala Sirisena differently. We are not telling that this report is a total failure but we cannot accept this as a complete report. The PCoI handed over its report to the President on Feb 1. After 23 days it was sent to Parliament. Now, a copy of the report is there in the parliamentary library for the perusal of MPs.”

Herath said that the PCoI did not have powers to take punitive action. “It only has powers to name those responsible and recommend action to be taken against those named.

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TNA MP faults govt. for delay in answering questions, gets under Johnston’s skin

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By Saman Indrajith

It did not matter whether the MPs were wearing pressed clothes or had travelled long distances when their questions were answered, Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando told Parliament yesterday.

 The Minister said so in response to a complaint by Batticaloa District TNA MP Shanikyan Rasamanikkam, who expressed his dismay for government taking time to answer a question raised by him.

 MP Rasamanikkam has raised a question whether the Minister of Health is aware that the Dikkodai ospital, located in the Batticaloa district is not used for public purposes and the patients who visit the hospital for receiving services, face inconveniences, owing to that. On behalf of the Minister of Health, the Chief Government Whip and Minister asked for additional two weeks time.

 MP Rasamanikkam: I come to parliament from Batticaloa, which is 422 km away. To attend Parliament we take great care including pressing our clothes. After taking so much trouble to come there braving the pandemic threat we do not get answers. There is a Health Minister and Acting Health Minister and neither of them is here. I saw Minister Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle in the House this morning. She too has gone out. I travel more than 800 km. We could attend to many other problems. It is because the government does not give answers we are conducting protest marches, but when we do so we are hauled up before courts.

Chief Government Whip Minister Johnston Fernando: Every MP comes here wearing pressed clothes. But that has nothing to do with questions and answers here. I have been requested by the subject minister to ask for two weeks’ time. The MPs have a right to ask questions and in the same way the ministers have the right to ask for time. On the other hand, whether you cover 400 km to reach parliament does not matter. The majority of MPs travel 200 to 250 kilometers to come to Parliament. It is for that purpose they contest elections and get elected. Once elected the distance is not an issue you have to come to Parliament. The government has answered all your questions. This is the first time the Minister has asked for additional time. It is unfair for you to level charges. A more responsible conduct is expected of you as an upcoming political leader.

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