Gujarat HC issues contempt notice to Modi govt

Ahmedabad: In fresh trouble for the Narendra Modi government, the Gujarat High Court today issued contempt notice to it for not obeying its order to compensate people whose shops were burnt down in the post-Godhra riots. The notice comes a week after the court indicted the state government for non-restoration of religious places destroyed in the communal frenzy.

A division bench of justices Akil Kureshi and C L Soni asked the Ahmedabad district collector to reply by March 14 as to why contempt proceedings should not be initiated, based on a petition filed by 56 riot victims whose shops were gutted during the 2002 riots. 56 shop owners whose establishments had been burnt down in Rakhial area of the city had applied for compensation after the Centre announced additional relief package for riot victims in February 2008.

As there was no response from the district authority, they moved the High Court through NGO Jan Sangarsh Manch, seeking direction to the collector to consider their applications and provide compensation. Based on their application, the court had passed an order in September last year directing the collector to examine their applications for compensation. The petitioners said early this month they received a communication from the collector`s office that all the 56 applications had been dismissed in August 2011 itself.

Following the communication, the victims filed a contempt petition against the collector and the state government for not complying with court`s order. Alleging that the collector`s office did not present full facts of the case to the court, the petitioners said since the court`s September ordered was subsequent to disposal of their applications, non-payment of compensation amounted to contempt of court.

In a scathing indictment of the Modi government, the Gujarat High Court had on February 8 termed the 2002 riots as "negligence of the State" and censured it for "inaction", holding that it had resulted in an "anarchic" situation. The court passed strictures against the government while ordering it to pay for restoration of 500 odd religious structures destroyed during the riots on a petition by Islamic Relief Committee of Gujarat.

"Even if we for the sake of argument accept the defence of the State that the cause of riot was the general reaction from the incident of Sabarmati Express, the failure on part of police intelligence to gather such general reaction (after the Godhra train burning incident) in time and to take appropriate timely action definitely come within expression `negligence of the State`," the court had said.

"Similarly, the fact remains that anarchy continued unabated for days … itself suggests lack of appropriate action or adequate action, if not inaction, on the part of the State in handling the situation," it further observed. "The state cannot shirk from its responsibilities," the court maintained while noting, "Once we hold that there was `inadequate endeavour` on the part of the state government in effectively handling the situation resulting in destruction of more than 500 places of religious worship throughout the state belonging only to the one religious community."

Passing the order, seen as a major setback to the Modi government, the court had concluded "It is the duty of the state government to restore all those religious places, irrespective of the religion, to its original position as it existed at the time of destruction." The court said if those structures had already been restored, the government should compensate persons in charge of those places by reimbursing the amount spent by them.

The HC held that the policy adopted by the state government restricting compensation only to damaged residential and business premises and not extending it to places of worship was violative of the fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 25 and 26 of the Constitution. "The policy of the state government taken in defence is one of evading the constitutional responsibility and will bring anarchy in the society, and thus, is detrimental to the establishment of the principles and the tenets of our Constitution," it added.