‘Shouldn’t be Surprised’: Sanjay Hegde on Babri Demolition Verdict

“Special judge’s finding that there was no conclusive evidence was expected given the delays and CBI’s approach.”

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“I don’t think one should be particularly surprised at the final verdict which has come today.”

Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde said the decision of the CBI special court on 30 September to acquit all 32 accused before it in the key criminal case relating to the demolition of the Babri Masjid was not a surprising one, despite the time taken for it to happen and the huge amount of material in the public domain about the incident.

But why?

It is because of the very fact it has taken 28 years for this trial to be completed, and only thanks to the Supreme Court’s intervention in 2017, that Hegde believes the decision was to be expected.

“I don’t think anybody wanted any convictions in the matter. The CBI had a very selective role to play, this is an entire process... But the entire period of 25 years where there was all this pussyfooting, obviously did not inure to the benefit of the prosecution. It inured to the benefit of the defence – delay is a well-known defence tactic.”

But how did special judge SK Yadav find that there was no conclusive evidence to prove the demolition of the mosque was a pre-planned conspiracy, despite all the photos, videos and witness accounts?

“Material in the public domain is not necessarily evidence, as you well know. Evidence is that which is brought properly under the Evidence Act before a court of law... There may be reams of material out there in the public domain, but unless a prosecutor brings it on record through the process of law, the court is not supposed to take cognisance of it.”

So does this mean vindication for LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti and others?

While Hegde acknowledges that politically, this will no doubt be spun as a vindication of the accused, and a complete exoneration, he reminds us that there have been several cases where acquittals at a trial court level have been overturned on appeal, though he stops short of saying this verdict is likely to be reversed just yet.

“There was a lot of suspicion, but proof in a court of law, proof beyond reasonable doubt, today has not happened. But you must remember that there is an appeal system. You must remember that in the Jessica Lall case and even in Priyadarshini Mattoo, there were acquittals at first instance.”

So will there be an appeal? And will the CBI do better on the appeal?

Hegde believes the CBI’s approach may be quite similar to the way it responded to the 2G scam case, where also all the accused were acquitted. The CBI is yet to be granted leave to appeal by the Delhi High Court in that case, with hearings on just that procedural point dragging on for two years now.

“I suspect something similar will happen in this case. There may be a decision taken that an appeal will be filed. But even that decision will be a tough call to take, there will be many pulls and pushes. If such a decision is taken and an appeal is filed, as to when the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court will hear it – well the law’s proverbial delay has its own lessons to be drawn.”

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