On Thursday, the Supreme Court favoured a time-bound completion of trial in the Babri Masjid demolition case and reserved its order on the CBI plea for revival of conspiracy charges against BJP leaders LK Advani, MM Joshi and Uma Bharti.
A bench of Justices P C Ghose and R F Nariman said there cannot be two trials — one at Rae Bareili against Advani and others and another at Lucknow against ‘karsevaks’ – in connection with the demolition of the disputed structure at Ayodhya on December 6, 1992.
The court said it will be in the interest of parties that the cases, which are pending since 1992, are disposed of within a time frame while favouring shifting of the trial in the case against Advani and others from a court in Rae Bareli to Lucknow.
It was also of the view that the conspiracy charges against the accused cannot be dropped on the pretext of technical glitches and that it has stepped in to examine their restoration as the serious charge was originally in the joint charge sheet filed by the CBI in both set of the cases.
The conspiracy charges were later dropped by the trial court and the order was upheld by the Allahabad High Court for want of sanction from the chief justice of the high court.
“What has to happen has already happened. The Supreme Court has power to transfer cases from one court to another. We are thinking of a day-to-day trial which must be completed in two years.
“A person should not suffer due to litigation which has been going on for the 25 years,” the bench said.
It said, “There can’t be two trials on same charges of conspiracy and both the cases have to come at one point or else what will happen if on the same facts and circumstances two courts give contrary orders.
“The accused can easily contest the conspiracy charges made by the CBI in the court but no one can be allowed to go scot free due to technical glitches”.
Senior advocate K K Venugopal, appearing for Advani and Joshi, said that the apex court cannot exercise power under Article 142 of the Constitution to scuttle the fundamental rights of individuals by transferring the case.
He said that the case at Rae Bareli involving Advani and other senior BJP leaders is being tried by a first class magistrate and the first appeal lies with the sessions court while in Lucknow case, it is being tried by a sessions court and the appeal lies with the high court.
“If you transfer the case from Rae Bareli to Lucknow then we will lose the opportunity of one appeal which is our fundamental right under the Constitution. The court in exercise of power under Article 142 of the Constitution cannot curtail the fundamental right of an individual,” Venugopal said.
To this, the bench said that it will have to weigh the contention whether in the interest of justice, the fundamental right of individual as contended can be curtailed.
“In the interest of doing justice, the Supreme Court can exercise its power under Article 142 to overcome a couple of procedures that have suffered due to technical glitches,” it said.
Venugopal said that to establish conspiracy charges under section 120-B of the IPC against the accused, the CBI has to establish meeting of minds among individuals for doing a criminal act.
“Does this mean that I have conspired with over one lakh karsevaks to demolish the structure. If it (the CBI) had enough evidence of conspiracy charges against us it would have filed a supplementary charge sheet at the Rae Bareli court but it never did,” he said.
Additional Solicitor General Neeraj Kishan Kaul, appearing for the CBI, said that the two prayers of the agency are that the conspiracy charges against the accused should be revived and the high court order dropping the charges be set aside.
At the outset, he argued that conspiracy charges cannot be dropped and the trial against the accused in the Rae Bareli case should also take place in Lucknow.
The same argument was adopted by senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who was appearing for intervenor one Haji Mahboob Ahmad (since dead), and said that the cases arising out of conspiracy of same transaction have to be tried together.
Venugopal contended that charges of conspiracy have been “blindly fixed” and that there cannot be only one conspiracy where over lakhs of karsevaks were involved.