As NHRC head, Justice Verma set the stage for justice in 2002 riots

One of the first judicial interventions in the 2002 Gujarat riots cases came as early as April 1, 2002, when Justice (retired) J S Verma as chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) noted that investigations in these cases were being "influenced" by extraneous considerations or players and recommended CBI probe into five cases — Godhra carnage, and killings at Gulberg Society, Naroda Patiya, Best Bakery in Vadodara and Sardarpura in Mehsana.

A year later, after the accused in the Best Bakery case were acquitted by a local court, the NHRC petitioned the Supreme Court for a retrial in this and four other cases outside Gujarat.

Severely indicting the Gujarat government for not responding promptly to the NHRC, Justice Verma who took suo motu cognisance of the situation had also advised setting up of special courts to try these cases.

In May 2002, the NHRC under him suggested that a security adviser be appointed to the chief minister. Subsequently, retired IPS officer KPS Gill was deputed to Gujarat in 2002.

The concluding observations in the NHRC report dated May 31, 2002 (Case No.1150/6/2001-2002) signed by Justice Verma said, "The tragic events in Gujarat, starting with the Godhra incident and continuing with the violence that rocked the state for over two months, have greatly saddened the nation.

There is no doubt, in the opinion of this Commission, that there was a comprehensive failure on the part of the state government to control the persistent violation of the rights to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the people of the state. It is, of course, essential to heal the wounds and to look to a future of peace and harmony.

But the pursuit of these high objectives must be based on justice and the upholding of the values of the Constitution of the Republic and the laws of the land. That is why it remains of fundamental importance that the measures that require to be taken to bring the violators of human rights to book are indeed taken".

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