Further Proceedings of the Commission on situation in Gujarat

The Commission continued to monitor the situation in respect of Gujarat. In Proceedings dated 31 May 2002, the Commission made a further set of Comments and Recommendations in regard to developments in that State. These Proceedings were in continuation of those recorded by the Commission on 1 and 6 March 2002 and 1 April and 1 May 2002. All of these are available on www.nhrc.nic.in.

It will be recalled that, in its Proceedings of 1 April 2002, the Commission had set out its Preliminary Comments and Recommendations on the situation in Gujarat. It had also directed that a copy of those Proceedings, together with a copy of the Confidential Report of the team of the Commission that visited Gujarat from 19-22 March 2002, be sent to the Government of Gujarat and to the Government of India, requesting them to send their response/comments within two weeks. In view of the visit of the Hon’ble Prime Minister to Gujarat that had been announced for 4 April 2002, the Chairperson was also requested to send a copy of the Proceedings and of the Confidential Report to him.

In its Proceedings of 1 May 2002, the Commission noted that the Government of Gujarat had sent a reply dated 12 April 2002, but that the Ministry of Home Affairs had sent an interim response, dated 16 April 2002, seeking time until 30 April 2002 to send a more detailed reply. However, no further reply had been received from the Ministry of Home Affairs as of the time of recording the 1 May Proceedings.

In the same Proceedings, the Commission further noted that the reply of the Government of Gujarat did not respond to the Confidential Report of the Commission’s team, referred to in its Proceedings of 1 April 2002. The Commission also observed that a specific reply was sought to that Report in order to enable further consideration of the matter, in view of the allegations made, which are mentioned in that Report. While noting that, ordinarily, it would be in order for the Commission to proceed with the further consideration of this matter with the available reply alone while treating the contents of the Confidential Report as unrebutted, the Commission deemed it fit to give a further opportunity of two weeks to reply to the specific matters mentioned in the Confidential Report. The Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India was also given a further two weeks for its detailed reply, which was to cover inter alia the contents of the Confidential Report that had already been sent to it.

Later in the day on 1 May 2002, after it had recorded its Proceedings, the Commission received a further response from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. The covering letter, dated 1 May 2002, stated that the response related to “the Proceedings of the Commission dated 1st April 2002 and the recommendations made therein in so far as it concerns the Central Government.” The response added that “the report of the visit of the team of the National Human Rights Commission to Gujarat between 19th and 22nd March, 2002 which was sent in a sealed cover has also been examined and since all the issues mentioned therein pertain to the Government of Gujarat, they have been requested to send their comments on the above report directly to NHRC.”

Despite the above-mentioned response of the Government of India, and the extension of time until 15 May 2002 that was granted by the Commission to the Government of Gujarat to respond to the Confidential Report, no response was received from the State Government to that Report until the Commission recorded its Proceedings of 31 May 2002. This was so despite repeated oral reminders by the Commission and assurances by the State Government that a response would soon be forthcoming.

In these circumstances, the Commission decided to offer additional Comments upon the response of the Government of Gujarat of 12 April 2002, in respect of the Preliminary Comments of the Commission of 1 April 2002.

It also decided not to wait any longer for the response of the Government of Gujarat to the Confidential Report that was sent to it on 1 April 2002, enough time and opportunity having been provided to the State Government to comment on it. Instead, it was decided that the Confidential Report should now be made public in its totality. The Commission had earlier withheld release of the Confidential Report because it considered it appropriate to give the State Government a full opportunity to comment on its contents, given the sensitivity of the allegations contained in it that were made to the team of the Commission that visited Gujarat between 19-22 March 2002. The Commission also observed that, as and when the response of the State Government to that Confidential Report is received, the Commission would make that public, together with the Commission’s views thereon. (The response of the Gujarat Government to the Confidential Report was received by the Commission through e-mail after its Proceedings of 31 May 2002 had been recorded. That response was made public on 1 June 2002.)

In its Proceedings of 31 May 2002, the Commission commented in detail following matters relevant to the situation in Gujarat:

· Failure to protect rights to life, liberty, equality and dignity;

· Failure of intelligence;

· Failure to take appropriate action;

· Failure to identify local factors and players;

· Pattern of arrests;

· Uneven handling of major cases;

· Distorted FIRs: ‘ extraneous influences’, issue of transparency and integrity;

· Pervasive insecurity: with special mention of the situations faced by Justice Kadri & Justice Divecha;

In addition having considered the Gujarat Government’s reply of 1-2 April 2002 and the response of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India dated 1 May 2002, the Commission made a further set of recommendations on following subjects:

I. Law and Order.

· Involvement of CBI – in respect of certain crucial cases;

· Police Reform – including action to be taken on recommendations of the National Police Commission and the NHRC that are still pending despite efforts to have them acted upon;

· Special Courts & Special Prosecutiors;

· Special Cells – to monitor the progress of cases;

· Time – frames for investigation;

· Police Desks in Relief Camps;

· Survey of all affected persons;

· Analysis of matter collected by NGOs and others;

· Provocative statements made to the media;

· Identification of delinquent public servants;

II. Proper Implementation of Existing Statutory Provisions, Circulars and Guidelines - the principal statutory provisions, circulars and guidelines that could and should have been vigorously used to control the situation were listed.

III. Camps – attention was drawn to certain urgent needs.

IV. Rehabilitation – specific step were proposed.

In its concluding observation’s the Commission stated that “The tragic events in Gujarat, starting with the Godhra incident and continuing with the violence that rocked the State for over two months, have greatly saddened the nation. There is no doubt, in the opinion of this Commission, that there was a comprehensive failure on the part of the State Government to control the persistent violation of the rights to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the people of the State. It is, of course, essential to heal the wounds and to look to a future of peace and harmony. But the pursuit of these high objectives must be based on justice and the upholding of the values of the Constitution of the Republic and the laws of the land. That is why it remains of fundamental importance that the measures that require to be taken to bring the violators of human rights to book are indeed taken”.

The Commission further noted that “there has been a decline in the incidents of violence in the past three weeks and that certain positive developments have taken place since the start of May 2002. However, as these Proceedings indicate, much remains to be done, and the integrity of the administration must be restored and sustained if those who have suffered are to be fully restored in their rights and dignity”.

The Commission therefore decided to control to monitor the situation with care, and called upon the Government of Gujarat to report to it again, by 30 June 2002, on all of the matters covered in the Comments and Recommendations contained in its Proceedings, including the Confidential Report of 1 April 2002 transmitted to it earlier.