Nearly 28 years after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, a special CBI court in Lucknow on Wednesday acquitted all the 32 people accused of conspiring to raze the structure among other charges, including BJP veterans L.K. Advani and M.M. Joshi, on the grounds of absence of any conclusive evidence against them.
The court also observed that late Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Ashok Singhal wanted to save the structure because Ram idols were inside.
In his 2,300-page verdict, special CBI judge S.K. Yadav said the CBI could not produce any conclusive evidence against any accused.
He, however, directed all the accused to furnish a surety and personal bond of Rs 50,000 each in the court as a procedural requirement under section 437 (A) of CrPC.
During the course of the trial, the judge did not accept newspaper reports and video cassettes as evidence.
On Wednesday, the judge occupied his chair in the courtroom at 12:10 pm and read out the operative part of the judgment pronouncing the acquittal of all the accused.
It was his last working day in judicial service. He had already retired on September 30, 2019, but the Supreme Court had extended his service till delivery of the judgment in the case by September 30, 2020.
Reading out the verdict in open court, where 26 of the 32 accused were present along with their lawyers, the judge did not accept newspapers as pieces of evidence as their original copies were not produced and proved.
He also did not rely on the photos of the incident as their negatives were not produced.
“The video cassettes were not sealed and even the videos were not clear and as such the same cannot be relied,” he observed.
“Even VHP leader late Ashok Singhal was trying to stop the karsevaks from demolishing the disputed structure because the idol of Lord Ram was also inside the structure,” the judge wrote in his verdict.
When the accused were pronounced innocent, some of them in the court loudly chanted “Jai Shri Ram” in presence of the judge.
Defence counsel Vimal Kumar Srivastava told the media that "we have been reiterating from the very beginning that there is no evidence in the case and L.K. Advani, M.M. Joshi, Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharti and all other accused were falsely implicated by the CBI under influence of the then Congress government at Centre and today's verdict is a win for justice.”
On whether the premier agency will appeal in the high court, CBI's lawyer Lalit Singh told mediapersons that the copy of the judgment would be sent to CBI headquarters in Delhi and it would take further decision after perusal of the verdict.
In his verdict, the judge also observed that a local intelligence unit (LIU) report at that time had said there may be some untoward incident, but no inquiry was conducted on the information.
The case related to the razing of the disputed structure in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, which triggered riots for several months leaving nearly 2,000 people dead across the country.
The structure was demolished by 'karsevaks' who claimed that the 16th century mosque in Ayodhya was built on the site of an ancient Ram temple.
The 32 accused include former deputy prime minister Advani, former Union ministers Joshi and Uma Bharti, former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh during whose tenure the structure was pulled down, besides VHP leaders Vinay Katiyar and Sadhvi Rithambara.
Champat Rai, the general secretary of the trust in charge of constructing the temple, was also among the accused.
Bharti (61) and Singh (88) are convalescing in separate hospitals after having tested positive for COVID-19 and were not present in the court at the time of pronouncement of order.
Advani (92), Joshi (86), Nritya Gopal Das and Satish Pradhan were also not present in court.
With the Supreme Court setting August 31 as the deadline and later extending it by a month for the CBI court to give its verdict, the trial court started day-to-day hearing to complete the task on time.
The central agency produced 351 witnesses and 600 documents as evidence before the court. Charges were framed against 49 people, but 17 (including stalwarts like Ashok Singhal, Balasaheb Thackeray, Vijayraje Scindia) died during the course of the trial.
The serious criminal conspiracy charge against the accused was first dropped by the trial court in 2001. The verdict was upheld by the Allahabad High Court in 2010, but the apex court ordered restoration of the conspiracy charge against the accused on April 19, 2017.
The top court ordered daily hearings in the high profile case and directed the special judge to conclude the trial in two years.
The charge of conspiracy was in addition to other charges including promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion. The accused were also facing charges of having made assertions “prejudicial to national integration and injuring or defiling a place of worship”.
The other charges against them included indulging in “deliberate and malicious” acts intended to outrage religious feelings, uttering statements leading to public mischief, rioting and unlawful assembly.
The CBI had argued that the accused conspired and instigated 'karsevaks' to demolish the 16th century mosque. However, the accused had pleaded innocence, maintaining there is no evidence to prove their guilt and claiming they were implicated by the then Congress government at the Centre as political vendetta.
AIMPLB to Challenge Verdict
Senior lawyer and member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) Zafaryab Jilani said the verdict would be challenged in the high court.
There were hundreds of statements by the witnesses and in criminal cases these are very important, Jilani said, adding that among those who gave their statements were IPS officers and journalists who had said that the accused persons were sitting on the dias and inflammatory speeches were being given.
The special CBI court has given its verdict ignoring the evidence and so Muslims will challenge it in the high court, he said.