In a serious setback to BJP veterans, the Supreme Court resurrected criminal conspiracy charges against L K Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharati and others in the 25-year-old Babri Masjid demolition case and set a two-year deadline for conclusion of trial.
Adopting a tough 'let justice be done though the heavens fall' line in the appeal filed by the CBI in the politically sensitive case, a bench of Justices P C Ghose and R F Nariman on Wednesday invoked the power vested in it under Article 142 of the Constitution to transfer the trial against the BJP leaders from Rae Bareli to Lucknow. This means two trials — conspiracy charges against Sangh leaders and a case dealing with the demolition of Babri Masjid — will proceed simultaneously.
The court ordered charges to be framed in four weeks, day-to-day trial and fixed a two-year deadline for the Lucknow court to pronounce judgment in both cases. It also said there would be no de novo (fresh) trial and that matters would proceed from the stage where they have reached. Frowning at frequent transfers of trial judges assigned to the case, the SC said the trial judge would not be moved and directed the CBI to ensure presence of witnesses.
Quashing a May 2010 judgment of the Allahabad high court that absolved senior BJP leaders of the criminal conspiracy charge, the bench said, "The court of sessions (in Lucknow) will frame within four weeks an additional charge under Section 120B (criminal conspiracy) against Advani, Joshi, Bharati, Vinay Katiyar, Sadhvi Rithambara, Vishnu Hari Dalmia, Champat Rai Bansal, Satish Pradhan, Dharam Das, Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, Mahamandaleshwar Jagdish Muni, Ram Bilas Vadanti, Vaikunth Lal Sharma alias Prem and Dr Satish Chandra Nagar." Some of the accused are dead.
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Kalyan Singh is the only one to earn a temporary reprieve as he is governor of Rajasthan. The SC said Singh enjoyed constitutional immunity as governor and could not be called to face trial. However, it clarified that his immunity would last only as long as he was governor. "The trial court will frame charges and move against him as soon as he ceases to be governor," the SC said.
Framing of conspiracy charge against the BJP leaders means they will be liable to face trial for offences committed by kar sevaks on December 6, 1992, when the mosque was demolished. The trial of Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray has abated after his death.
The SC said since the alleged offences committed by BJP leaders and kar sevaks were part of the same intent to carry out the alleged conspiracy, trials could not have been separated, irrespective of the fact that 49 different FIRs were lodged.
"That being the case, it is clear that the said accused could not possibly have been discharged, as they were already arrayed as accused insofar as the charge of criminal conspiracy was concerned, which would be gone into by the special judge, Lucknow, while dealing with the offences made out in FIR No. 197 of 1992 (against kar sevaks)," the SC said.