New Delhi: As many as 21 cases relating to communal violence and violence that had taken place during the course of ‘cow protection’ were dropped in Karnataka by various trial courts between October and December 2020. The move proves beneficial to Mysuru MP and BJP leader, Prathap Simha, 206 members of Hindu groups, and 106 Muslims, according to a report by the Indian Express.
The decision by the courts to drop cases came in the wake of a Karnataka government order, dated August 31, 2020, to withdraw as many as 62 cases and stop prosecution based on the “requests by elected representatives and others”. Following which cases were dropped by the courts between October 10, 2020, and December 10, 2020.
These cases pertain to communal incidents that had taken place between 2014 and 2019, and various government bodies – the director general and inspector general of police, the director of prosecution and government litigation and the law department – had categorically advised the B.S. Yediyurappa government against the withdrawing of prosecution.
The issue of cases being dropped by the courts, on the basis of government order, came to light when a petition was filed in the Karnataka high court by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), opposing the rationale of dropping cases based on the requests made by ministers and elected representatives.
After hearing the petition of PUCL, the high court issued an order to the state government on December 21, 2020 not to stop prosecution into the cases. It imposed a stay on the government order that resulted in the dropping of cases, citing that the government did not file a compliance report it had sought earlier.
Coming down heavily on the public prosecution and the courts that dropped cases, the high court on December 1, 2020, said, “The public prosecutor cannot act like a post box or act on the dictates of the state government and he has to act objectively as he is also an officer of the court.”
It further added, “No court is bound by such a decision taken to withdraw from the prosecution. Even if an application is made under Section 321 of CrPC, the courts are duty bound to assess whether a prima facie case is made out or not and the court has the power to reject the prayer.”
The Indian Express report notes that cases were dropped on specific requests made by former law minister J. C. Madhuswamy (who is currently serving as minor irrigation minister), the BJP MLA from Bhatkal, Sunil Naik, and animal husbandry minister Prabhu Chavan.
Madhuswamy sought the government to drop 13 cases relating to communal incidents that took place in the Hunsur region of the Mysore district between 2015 and 2018. Among them is a sensitive case in which BJP Mysuru MP, Simha, was booked for allegedly driving his jeep into a police barricade erected to regulate a Hanuman Jayanthi procession in communally sensitive Hunsur town in December 2017.
Simha was accused of rash driving, preventing a public servant from performing his duties, disturbing public order and deliberately hurting a public servant.
In compliance with the August 31, 2020 order, a Hunsur court dropped the cases against Simha, stating that “the state government has withdrawn the case against the accused”, and “acting u/sec 321 (a) of CrPC the accused is discharged…and the case is closed as withdrawn”.
Similarly, other cases filed in communal incidents reported from Hunsur were also withdrawn on November 26, 2020. Most of these cases relate to clashes between Hindu and Muslim groups, especially during Hanuman Jayanthi processions. As many as 142 Hindu and 40 Muslim youth from the Hunsur region were freed from criminal cases.
As for the Honnavar region of Uttara Kannada district, five cases involving communal violence that took place in the district in the run-up to the 2018 state assembly elections were withdrawn upon the request put forward by the BJP MLA from Bhatkal, Sunil Naik.
The communal violence in Honnavar in December 2017 had led to the BJP taking up the cause of 19-year-old Paresh Mesta, who died under mysterious circumstances following the violence. A CBI probe demanded by the BJP into the killing was acceded to by the state government later, and Union home minister, Amit Shah, then as BJP national president visited the family of Mesta.
In the Uttara Kannada district, as many as 110 persons accused in the five cases were freed by courts based on the state government’s August 31, 2020 order. Some of the cases relate to violence that had taken place at a peace meeting called by local authorities over the route of an annual Muslim procession near a Hanuman temple in Honnavar town, and a clash a few days later, between two groups. Following clashes, Mesta was found dead in a pond in the town.
The Honnavar cases were dropped on October 13, 2020. A civil judge and judicial magistrate noted that the government “have decided to withdraw the case against the accused persons”, and “this case is hereby dismissed as the case is withdrawn by the prosecution”, referring to the August 31, 2020 order.
As per the request of animal husbandry minister, Prabhu Chavan, two cases linked to communal violence reported from Bidar town were withdrawn.
While an accused alleged to have attacked people transporting cows in Bidar has been benefitted from Chavan’s request, six others accused of the same offence in a different case have not been benefitted from the minister’s request. A local Bidar court is set to hear the case pending against the six accused to frame charges.
In fact, Chavan, as animal husbandry minister, has played a key role in the state to get recently enacted anti-slaughter law, and also promised on January 19 that all cases registered against gau rakshaks would be withdrawn.
In another case from Bidar, eight Hindu youths accused of destroying public property in 2018 during a communal disturbance over the alleged rape and murder of a girl was dropped on December 10, 2020, owing to Chavan’s request and subsequent state government order issued on August 31, 2020.
On October 28, 2020, a local court dropped a 2015 case relating to a communal incident reported from Dharwad in which 10 people were accused. These cases were dropped based on the request made to the state government by BJP Dharwad MLA, Amruth Desai.