BENCH- Justice Doraiswamy Raju and Justice Arjit Pasayat.
Laws & Acts Applied in the case – Section 195 A of the Indian Penal Code, Section 15 of the Contempt of Court, Act, 1991, Article 129 of the Constitution of India, Article 142 (2) of the Constitution,1949.
Section 60 of the Indian Evidence Act mentions that oral evidence must be direct. If a fact is an evidence submitted must be direct. If it is a fact that could be heard, it must be the evidence of a witness who is said to have heard it. The evidence submitted before the court can be of original or unoriginal. The original is when a witness states himself to have seen or heard through the medium of his own senses. Unoriginal/derivative/transmitted/secondary/hearsay is when a witness is just reporting but was not himself heard or seen.
In this case, except for two main witnesses, all other people have provided unoriginal evidence. Many witnesses turned against and the remaining witnesses were not found to be that reliable. When the main witness changed her statements multiple times the court imposed a fine on her for giving wrong statements many times and misleading the case.
In March 2002, the Best Bakery massacre happened as nearly 1000 rioters jumped in on the bakery/residence owned by Habibullah Sheikh. Within hours, 11 members of the Sheikh family and 3 bakery employees were either burned to death or chopped to pieces.
The defence argued that only the FIR of March 1 is acceptable and not that of March 4 since it was manipulated by the police. In April 2002, the National Human Rights Commission suggested the case be handed over to the CBI. In May 2003, Zaheera, her mother, and her brothers withdrew their statements in court. She stated that she was on the terrace while the incident happened and couldn’t identify the suspect. In June 2003, all the 21 accused were held not guilty by a local court due to a lack of evidence. The judge doubted whether the police may have involved innocents but there is no enough evidence to prove that the accused committed the heinous crime. By July, Zaheera told the media that she and her mother lied before the court due to fear of life. The NHRC moves Special Leave Petition in the Apex Court asking for a re-trial outside Gujarat and the court accepts it.
On this re-trial, the independent eyewitnesses were testified, which included the workers of the bakery. Zaheera presented an affidavit to the High Court stating that she was compelled to lie in Court due to the fear of her’s and her family’s life. She stated that after the court held not guilty of the 21 accused, two Muslims barged into her house and threatened to change her statement in favour of the community, and hence she and her brother were taken to Mumbai.
By November 2004, Zaheera went into hiding and skipped a hearing although summons was issued to her and her brothers. Her cousin Yasmin Sheikh appeared as a witness and identified 11 of the 21 accused in the Best Bakery case. Her brother appeared in court to withdraw his earlier statement. He stated that someone hit him in the head had gone unconscious. By the time he could regain his senses the bakery had been burnt and so he does not recognize the accused. In August 2005, a Supreme Court-appointed committee headed by the Supreme Court Registrar General called Zaheera a “liar”.
The Supreme Court on March 8, 2006, sentenced Zaheera Sheikh to one-year imprisonment and Rs. 50,000 fine for giving faulty evidence to Court, based on the report given by the Committee. In a prosecution of Zaheera, the court ordered the income tax authorities, to immediately attach her property and bank accounts.
The case is a typical example of hearsay evidence and on whether the statements given outside the court can be taken into consideration. Well now, this is in direct contradiction to the rule of courts to consider anything which is said in the court by a witness as evidence and nothing beyond it. Hearsay evidence can be understood as a statement made out of court and is submitted in court as evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted.
The rules that help the judge to determine whether the evidence submitted is credible:-
1. Before being testified, the witness generally must swear that his or her testimony will be truthful.
The case became controversial when Zaheera and her family admitted publicly that they lied in the Court. They said that they were intimidated by BJP MLA Madhu Shrivastav and his brother. The witnesses turning hostile in the Mumbai Court proceedings, i.e., on the same charges in two different High Courts of the same country, is a complete ridiculing of the judicial independence of a person and it proves how one can easily fool the Court and that the voice of a person does not hold any value.
The Best Bakery Case is one of the landmark case judgments of the Indian judiciary. It was a heinous crime of genocide and had many issues including the involvement of media, hearsay evidence, witnesses turning away from their statements, etc. The judiciary tackled all the issues in a comprehensible way and paved the way for future regulations. Still, many questions remain unanswered like what can be done to stop witnesses from lying, is there always an influence of the police in every case and how can this influence be limited, what is the role of media, and do they have the right to judge any person without the knowledge of the law, do courts give their independent judgment or do they fall under the pressure of popular vote and sympathy?