PATNA, FEB 24 (PTI)
In a move that could have political ramifications for the Lalu Prasad Yadav-led RJD, the NDA government in Bihar announced institution of a judicial commission to probe afresh the Bhagalpur communal riot cases of 1989 which left over 1000, mostly Muslims, dead.
A special meeting of the Cabinet, chaired by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, resolved to get the matter probed by a one-man judicial commission which will bring to justice the accused who managed to escape conviction despite evidence, punish the errant officials and suggest a rehabilitation package for the victims.
The commission, to be headed by a serving or retired judge of the Patna High Court, would be asked to submit its report within six months of its inception. However, the commission might submit an interim report if it so desired, Nitish told reporters after the meeting which lasted over three hours.
It would be the second judicial probe into the Bhagalpur massacres which had shaken the nation and led to the alienation of minority Muslims from the Congress.
The riots had taken place when Satyendra Narain Sinha of the Congress was the Chief Minister.
Earlier, the RJD government had instituted a judicial commission headed by Justice R N Prasad whose report was tabled in the state Legislative Council in 1996.
Lalu, who became Chief Minister in 1990, was often accused by the NDA of ‘soft-pedalling’ the investigation of the cases and prosecution of the accused despite his secularist agenda.
The NDA government’s decision to institute a fresh judicial inquiry is also being seen as an attempt to shed its pro-Hindutva image due to the presence of the BJP in the coalition ministry. A fresh investigation also suits the present regime as it will be able to put the erstwhile the RJD government in the dock for its inability to get those guilty convicted despite existence of evidence against them.
The Congress loss of Muslim votes resulted in huge gains for Lalu as the community solidly backed him and his wife Rabri Devi during their 15-year stint in power in Bihar.
Nitish said the Cabinet had decided to get 27 cases of the riots re-investigated to bring the guilty to justice and punish the officials responsible for their acquittal despite existence of ‘solid’ evidence against them.
”We have identified 27 cases in which closure reports were filed by the police despite sufficient evidence against the accused which were not presented before the courts leading to their acquittal,” he said.
The commission, he said, will also examine whether the victims sold their properties in riot-hit areas under duress and, if so, steps will be taken to restore such properties to their rightful owners and action taken against the guilty.
Nitish said he had written to the Prime Minister earlier this month seeking the Centre’s help in providing a package to the Bhagalpur riot victims on the pattern of the victims of anti-Sikh riots in 1984.
He said the commission would also suggest a rehabilitation package detailing measures needed to be taken for restoration of land, houses and other properties, which were forcibly occupied during the riots, to their lawful owners.