Crescent Kashmir

Gujarat court drops Modi’s name from 2002 riots case, says plaintiffs ‘cleverly’ connected him

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New Delhi: A civil court in Gujarat’s Prantij Saturday dropped the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi from three suits seeking damages for three British nationals killed during the 2002 riots, when he was the state’s chief minister.

Modi had filed an application to strike off his name because he was not a “necessary or property party” in the case, and Principal Civil Judge Suresh Kumar Kaludan Gadhavi accepted the arguments put forth by the PM’s lawyer, S.S. Shah.

“A bare reading of the plaint makes it further evident that bald allegations are made against defendant No.1 (Modi) and none of the averments indicates malice on the part of defendant No.1, which resulted in the incident in question,” stated the court order.

The suits, filed in 2004 by British nationals Shirin Dawood, Shamima Dawood and Imran Salim Dawood, who lost their kin during the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat, were consolidated in 2017. Apart from Modi, 11 others, including then-state home minister Gordhan Zadaphia, were named in the suit, claiming Rs 20 crore as damages.

The victims were killed by a mob on the National Highway 8 on 28 February 2002 when they were returning from Rajasthan to Gujarat. Imran Salim Dawood, then 18, had travelled to India with his UK-based uncles.

Complaints made ‘cleverly’ to connect Modi to riots

The court dropped Modi’s name, brushing aside the objections raised by the original plaintiffs who were “attempting to drag the case” and levelled “only general, nonspecific and vague” allegations against Modi.

“There is not a single averment showing presence of defendant No.1 at the scene of offence at the relevant time, or his direct or indirect involvement in the alleged act, or any specific role from which reasonable ground for malice or intentional acts or omissions can be found, entitling the plaintiff to claim any legal right or relief against defendant No.1 in his personal or official capacity in the suit,” the judge observed.

He also termed the allegations as “reckless and without any basis”, and opined the averments in the complaints were made “cleverly to connect” Modi to the riots and seek compensation from him.

The court noted the plaintiffs had not brought on record the outcome of the criminal trial with respect to the killings, seeking to know whether Modi was named as accused in the case.

Can state head be liable for officers’ acts/omissions?

The court acknowledged that the plaintiff in a civil case has the right to choose the defendant. But it added that this right can be exercised if only a legal right exists against the defendant.

According to the plaintiffs’ argument, Modi as the head of the state at the time of riots was “constitutionally, statutorily and personally liable for being in complete command of the state machinery”.

They alleged the state had ignored Intelligence Bureau inputs regarding the movement of kar sevaks, and Modi did not oppose the call for bandh given by the Vishva Hindu Parishad, and deliberately did not act against newspapers for fanning communal passions. Such omission on the part of the CM led to the increasing violence against the Muslim community, the plaintiffs argued.

The court dismissed these assertions because the plaintiffs failed to show reasonable grounds along with proposed evidence before including Modi as defendant.

It also wondered if a person who merely holds an office of the state can be made liable for each and every act or omission of its officers in the absence of any specific intentional act or omission or connection.

Plaintiffs allege lawyers were targeted

During the hearing, the plaintiffs also contested the jurisdiction of the forum to hear the matters, on the ground their lawyers were being targeted by the state government through the CBI, and they were finding it difficult to secure services of other advocates.

It was for this reason that Imran Dawood submitted an affidavit directly to the court, raising objections to the removal of Modi’s name.

“The action (CBI raid) for all intents and purposes is a co-ordinated strategy, especially given the content of the special civil suit and the timing of the action against our lawyers and the timing of the application to remove defendant No.1 from the special civil suit,” the plaintiffs claimed.

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