BJP stalwarts L K Advani, M M Joshi and Uma Bharti would be prosecuted for serious offence of criminal conspiracy in the politically sensitive 1992 Babri Masjid demolition case, with the Supreme Court today ordering day-to-day trial to be concluded in two years.
The apex court, which dubbed the demolition of the medieval era monument as a "crime" which shook "secular fabric of Constitution", allowed the CBI's plea on restoration of criminal conspiracy charge against the VVIP accused, which will have its political implications particularly against Advani, a front-runner for the post of the President.
However, the top court said, Kalyan Singh, who is presently the Governor of Rajasthan and during whose tenure as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh the disputed structure was razed, was entitled to immunity under Constitution as long as he remained in the gubernatorial position.
"The Court of Sessions will frame charges and move against him as soon as he ceases to be Governor," it said.
The court came down heavily on CBI for the delay of 25 years in the trial and said, "The accused persons have not been brought to book largely because of the conduct of the CBI in not pursuing the prosecution of the aforesaid alleged offenders in a joint trial, and because of technical defects which were easily curable, but which were not cured by the State Government."
It also rejected the contention of Advani and Joshi against clubbing of their cases, being tried at Rae Bareilly court, with those of the 'unknown Karsevaks' going on in a court in Lucknow.
Issuing a slew of directions, a bench comprising Justices P C Ghose and R F Nariman said "the proceedings viz. Crime No. 198/92 (against Advani and five others) in the court of the Special Judicial Magistrate at Rae Bareilly will stand transferred to the Court of Additional Sessions Judge (Ayodhya Matters) at Lucknow."
Besides the three leaders, the accused, against whom the conspiracy charge would be now invoked, are Vinay Katiar, Sadhvi Ritambara, Vishnu Hari Dalmia, who were also being tried at Rae Bareilly.
"The court of sessions will frame additional charges under Section 120-B (conspiracy) and the other provisions of the Penal Code mentioned in the joint charge sheet filed by the CBI against Champat Rai Bansal, Satish Pradhan, Dharam Das, Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, Mahamadleshwar Jagdish Muni, Ram Bilas Vadanti, Vaikunth Lal Sharma and Satish Chandra Nagar," Justice Nariman, writing the judgement for the bench, said.
"The court of sessions will, after transfer of the proceedings from Rae Bareilly to Lucknow and framing of additional charges, within four weeks, take up all the matters on a day-to-day basis from the stage at which the trial proceedings, both at Rae Bareilly and at Lucknow, are continuing, until conclusion of the trial.
"There shall be no de novo (fresh) trial. There shall be no transfer of the Judge conducting the trial until the entire trial concludes. The case shall not be adjourned on any ground except when the sessions court finds it impossible to carry on the trial on that particular date," it said.
The court also said that if trial is adjourned, then it be fixed on the the next day or a closely proximate date and the reasons for the same shall be recorded in writing.
"The sessions court will complete the trial and deliver the judgment within a period of 2 years from the date of receipt of this judgment," it said.
CBI shall ensure that on every date fixed for recording of evidence, some prosecution witnesses must remain present, so that for want of witnesses the matter is not adjourned, it said.
"We make it clear that liberty is given to any of the parties before the Sessions Court to approach us in the event of these directions not being carried out, both in letter and in spirit," the court said.
Dealing with the issue of protracted trial, the bench said that almost 25 years have gone and yet "we are solemnly reminded that Respondent Nos.4 and 5's (Advani and Joshi) fundamental rights should not be curtailed by any order passed under Article 142."
The apex court justified its decision to invoke Article 142 for transferring the case from a magisterial court to a sessions court in Lucknow and rejected the plea of leaders that they will loose a judicial forum of appeal.
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