SC pulls up CBI over delay in appealing Babri verdict

Babri Masjid demolition
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was caught on the wrong foot Thursday when the Supreme Court asked it to first establish the maintainability of its criminal appeal in the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition case since the agency was late in moving court despite claiming it to be a matter of "national importance".

Even before the CBI could argue on the merits of its appeal against an earlier ruling that said senior BJP leaders such as L K Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi cannot be tried for criminal conspiracy in the demolition, the apex court said that the agency will have to first explain its over four-month delay in filing the appeal and satisfy the court why it should condone the lapses.

"You just said that it is a matter of national importance. So, now could you be saying that translation of certain court documents will take days and settling the issues will take another three months? Except for your general statements, how do you intend to justify your delay? Since the other side has serious objections to condoning the delay, you require to satisfy us first," said a bench led by Justice H L Dattu.

Earlier, senior advocate P P Rao, appearing for the CBI, had begun by saying that Advani and others had committed a "national crime" and that the issue involved in these appeals were of "national importance".

Shooting down the argument, the bench said: "Please don't say that matter is of national importance or it is a national crime. You cannot say whether it is a national crime or not unless the court decides it in one way or the other."

When asked to first explain the delay, Rao said translation of vernacular documents and other administrative work took time. The bench, however, examined all the documents on record and questioned if the work required so much time.

At this, Rao requested he be allowed to file an additional affidavit to explain the delay and bring out all the reasons. This plea was immediately turned down by the bench, saying it could not let the CBI improve its case now by placing on record additional facts.

"When you filed your first affidavit, the court master asked you to file a better affidavit. Now you have filed another affidavit. Can we now be asking you to file another affidavit only to improve your case? We will not permit you to file any more affidavit in any form," the bench said.

Senior lawyers K K Venugopal and Ravi Shankar Prasad, who appeared for Advani and others, also objected to putting on record any new material. "In a normal case, we would not have any objection but this is purely political. Time is being sought to only further political agenda. They were given sufficient time and so now they only want to improve upon their case," they said.

The bench accepted their submissions and asked Rao to argue on the question of limitation only on the basis of available documents. It, however, allowed the CBI to place on record other documents that formed part of the orders passed by the Special CBI court and the Allahabad High Court in 2010, wherein conspiracy charges were dropped against a group including Advani and Kalyan Singh, who was the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh in December 1992.

The others against whom charges were dropped included Satish Pradhan, C R Bansal, Ashok Singhal, Giriraj Kishore, Sadhvi Ritambhara, V H Dalmia, Mahant Avaidhynath, R V Vedanti, Paramhans Ram Chandra Das, Jagdish Muni Maharaj, B L Sharma, Nritya Gopal Das, Dharam Das, Satish Nagar and Moreshwar Save.

The court will now hear the case on February 13.

There are two sets of cases relating to the demolition of the Babri Masjid, one against Advani and others who were on the dais at Ram Katha Kunj in Ayodhya when it was demolished and the other against unknown 'karsevaks' who were in and around the disputed structure.

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