PUCL Bulletin, September 2001

Maharashtra govt. stalling on Srikrishna commission's report on massive killings of muslims in Mumbai
-- By Asghar Ali Engineer

The Report of the Srikrishna Commission, which probed the Mumbai riots of 1992-93, remains unimplemented even three years after its submission. All previous riot probe reports have met with the same fate. Take, for example, the Reddy Commission Report on the 1969 Ahmedabad riots. It was prepared so painstakingly by Justice Reddy and fixed responsibility for the communal violence. But the 'then State Government turned a blind eye to the main body of recommendations and suggestions and implemented some fringe suggestions such as on reforming the police.

The Justice Madon Commission on the Bhiwandi-Jalgaon riots of 1970 prepared another significant report. It was in seven volumes and Justice Madon had worked very hard to get at the truth. Justice Madon had criticized the police role and pointed out that the Bhiwandi Superintendent of Police had forged the daily diaries to involve some minority leaders. Nothing happened and no action was taken against any police person or political leaders, including those of the Shiv Sena.

Human rights activists and secular forces have much appreciated the pains taken by Mr. Justice Srikrishna to compile the report after spending months listening to hundreds of riot-affected people and sifting through their affidavits and other documents to dig out the truth. To probe the Mumbai riots and to stand up to the wrath of the Shiv Sena required a judge of extraordinary courage and character.

The Shiv Sena-BJP Government during whose tenure the Report was submitted naturally rejected it as biased and anti- Hindu. The then Chief Minister, ML Manoher Joshi, said that if anyone touched the Sena supremo, Mr. Bal Thackeray, he would resign as Chief Minister and agitate in the streets. One could hardly expect from such a partisan Chief Minister any action on the Report. Again, like the other reports, the Sena-BJP Government of Maharashtra accepted certain marginal recommendations about the policing system and filed the report.

Mr. Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party promised in its manifesto that if it came to power it would implement the Report within three months. However, it is more than a year since the Congress-NCP Government came to power but there is no sign of that happening. First, the Congress-NCP Government kept saying it is studying the 'legal position'. On December 6, 1999, a citizen's delegation met the Chief Minister, Mr. Vilasrao Deshmukh, and urged him to implement the report. He asked for two months' time, A signature campaign was also launched by an organisation called "Nirbhay Bano" (be fearless) and submitted to the Chief Minister. The government found another way out for non-implementation of the report by filing an affidavit in the Supreme Court in January 2000 that it plans to refer the report to the Crime Branch.

The question is: why has a report so painstakingly prepared by a judge of the High Court of Mr. Justice Srikrishna's integrity to be examined by the Crime Branch? Can the police officials who displayed their partisan and anti-minority character sit in judgment over a High Court judge of Mr. Justice Srikrishna's calibre? It was in February 2000 that Mr. Nasim Khan filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court asking that the Report's implementation be handed over to the CBI as he lacked faith in the Mumbai police. Again a delegation of some citizens led by the former Maharashtra Chief Secretary, Mr. J. B. D' Souza, met the Chief Minister. This time the delegation included some of the riot victims, one of whom, M. Hajira Bi, told the Chief Minister that her husband and brother had been missing ever since the riots and that she should be paid compensation. The Chief Minister promised to look into her request.
Meanwhile, the Government kept on saying that since the petition was pending in the Supreme Court it could not take action on the Report. In fact, had it taken action there would have been no need for the aggrieved people to go to the Supreme Court. In June 2000 the Deputy Chief Minister, Mr. Chhagan Bhujbal, announced that 112 riots cases out of a total 1, 358 were being reopened. It was during the Shiv Sena BJP government's time that most of these cases were closed on the grounds that no proper records were available or that the cases could not be substantiated.

Mr. Bhujbal also announced chargesheets in these cases would be filed within one month. Has this been done? On August 7, 2000, a citizens' delegation again met the Chief Minister on the second anniversary of the submission of the Srikrishna Commission Report urging him to implement the report. He again promised action as usual. It was after this that the Government announced setting up of a task force to deal with the riot cases. The Task Force is supposedly examining various cases.

The Srikrishna Commission has indicted 31 police personnel from the rank of Deputy Commissioner of Police to constable. On the role of the police, the Report says: "The evidence before the Commission indicates that the police personnel were found actively participating in riots, communal incidents or incidents of looting, arson and so on. The Commission strongly recommends that Government take strict action against them." The Shiv Sena-BJP Government promoted 10 of these indicted police officers. This is how the Government took "strict action" against the officers. The Sena-BJP Government appointed one of them Police Commissioner of Mumbai. The Police Commissioner has since retired.

What action, if any, can the Congress-NCP Government take against the retired officer? Of the indicted police personnel, the Government has suspended five constables. It is always easy to take some symbolic action against the lower ranks. But the higher ranks go scot-free or are even rewarded.

Now the Maharashtra Government has decided to exonerate 12 police officers indicted by the Srikrishna Commission as stated in the affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court. One of them is dead. They are exonerated by the committee set up by the Government headed by the Additional Chief Secretary (Home). It is again the case of bureaucrats sitting in judgment on the report prepared by a High Court Judge of unimpeachable integrity. Of two police officers exonerated by the Government Committee, the Srikrishna Commission Report says, "...they were responsible for allowing the violent mob to hack to death one Abdul Razak Aba Kalshekar (C.R. NO. 13 of 1993)".
If the Governments tend to protect such police officers one can hardly hope the police officers will play an effective role in checking communal riots. And if the police play an openly partisan role as they did during the Mumbai riots of 1992-93 it is doubtful whether future riots can be prevented. If the Government is unable to give exemplary punishments to such police officers, it should at least desist from promoting them.

It is true that police officers are also human beings and can get affected by the social and political atmosphere. But this explanation cannot justify the behaviour of responsible officers. There is also great need for secularising the attitudes of the police officers through training work- shops for all ranks, but especially the constabulary, which handles the situation in the field. It must also be said that there are some really secular officers of proven record. They were there during the Mumbai riots too. I wish the Srikrishna Commission Report had mentioned them too. They performed their duty with a full sense of responsibility. My experience with police officers shows that many among them are misinformed on crucial issues. Proper knowledge can greatly help.

Hence, the urgent need for training work-shops on secular values and communal challenges.

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