SC to hear on Sep 29 plea of C’garh govt for witness examination on 'Jheeram Ghati' naxal attack
The Supreme Court Friday said it would hear on September 29 the plea of Chhattisgarh government against the refusal for examining of additional witnesses by the Judicial Commission set up to probe the 2013 Jheeram Ghati naxal attack in which in which 29 people, including leaders of state Congress, were killed.PTI | New Delhi | Updated: 25-09-2020 13:10 IST | Created: 25-09-2020 13:09 IST
The Supreme Court Friday said it would hear on September 29 the plea of the Chhattisgarh government against the refusal for examining additional witnesses by the Judicial Commission set up to probe the 2013 Jheeram Ghati Naxal attack in which 29 people, including leaders of state Congress, were killed. The state government had challenged the orders of Chhattisgarh High Court dismissing its plea seeking direction to the Special Judicial Enquiry Commission to examine the additional witnesses in the case. On May 25, 2013, Naxals had attacked a convoy of Congress leaders in Jheeram valley in the Darbha area of Bastar district, killing 29 people, including then state Congress chief Nand Kumar Patel, former leader of opposition Mahendra Karma and former Union minister Vidyacharan Shukla. A bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan said that it would take up the matter for hearing on September 29. The bench also comprising Justices R Subhash Reddy and M R Shah was told by senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi that the commission had rejected the request to record the testimony of six crucial witnesses and closed the probe. He said the commission had even refused to summon B K Ponwar, director of Jungle Warfare Training School, Kanker for recording his evidence as an expert and rejected the prayer of the State to examine him and closed the proceedings. "No one from the list of six witnesses has been examined by the commission," he said, adding that the additional terms of reference of the commission were given and it was accepted in September 2019. Singhvi contended that what happened to these additional terms of reference as the examination of old witnesses continued and the fact-finding commission did not examine the additional witnesses. The bench observed that Singhvi's arguments on facts were not correct and said, "Your argument that the commission started working in September is not correct". Chhattisgarh advocate general SC Verma also appeared in the matter. In the appeal filed through standing counsel Sumeer Sodhi, the state government said that the High Court bench at Bilaspur on January 29 had refused to interfere with a single judge order passed on December 12, 2019, had dismissed the plea for the examination of additional witnesses. It said that on October 11, 2019, the commission has rejected the prayer of the state to examine more witnesses and has closed the inquiry proceedings without examining the said witnesses who are relevant for the purpose and objective with which the commission was constituted. "It is submitted that the commission adopted a very narrow approach while deciding upon the prayer of the petitioner and rejected the same on the ground that inquiry commission was established in the year 2013 and the period of inquiry stretched up to almost six years. It was further observed that several opportunities were given to the parties to adduce evidence," the plea said. The state government said that the High Court failed to observe the purpose and intent of constituting an inquiry commission under the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952. "The High Court and the Enquiry Commission failed to appreciate that the commission was constituted for inquiring a matter of great public importance involving the security and the safety of the people of Chhattisgarh and also finding out the reach cause behind the fatal ambush and massacre of senior political leaders of the then opposition party that too at the time when the assembly elections were going to take place," the plea said. The government said that the Commission adopted an "extremely narrow approach" while adjudicating upon the prayers of the petitioner and completely ignored the purpose and spirit of section 3 of the Commissions of Inquiry Act. The deadly ambush by heavily armed Naxals took place when the political campaigning for the then assembly elections was on and the Congress leaders were returning after taking part in a 'Parivartan rally' at Bastar district. On May 28, 2013, considering the gravity and magnitude of the incident, the then Raman Singh led BJP government in the state set up a special judicial inquiry commission headed by Justice Prashant Kumar Mishra, a sitting judge of the High Court, and was directed to submit the report in three months on circumstances that led to the attack and other related issues.
The tenure of the commission was extended from time to time by the state government. On January 7, 2019, the judicial panel recorded that 67 witnesses have been examined in the matter and closed its proceedings and directed the parties to submit their written synopsis. On January 21, 2019, the newly elected Bhupesh Baghel government in the state extended the tenure of the commission till December 31, 2019, for submitting its report and referred eight more terms of reference in addition to nine terms of reference given in 2013. The state government claimed that on July 27, 2019, the probe panel reopened the proceedings and in September, last year observed that no fresh witnesses will be summoned after October 1, 2019. On September 30, Officer-in-Charge Sunder Raj P of the case filed an affidavit and on October 11, he requested the probe panel to examine the witnesses named in his affidavit on the ground that they were relevant for the inquiry. The state government had also moved the application for summoning Ponwar for recording his evidence as an expert.