In May 2003, a special trial court in Vadodara acquitted all 21 accused in the Best Bakery massacre after prime eye-witness Zahira Sheikh and others had resiled from the statements earlier made before the Vadodara police, the National Human Rights Commission, the Chief Election Commissioner of India, the Gujarat government- appointed Shah-Nanavati Commission, the Concerned Citizens Tribunal set up by Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), other independent human rights groups and the print and electronic media.
In July 2003, Zahira and her family members held a press conference in Mumbai to say that they had lied in the Vadodara court under serious threats but had now decided to appeal before the Supreme Court with the help of CJP for a retrial of the case outside Gujarat.
On April 12, 2004 the Supreme Court passed a historic order directing the transfer and retrial of the Best Bakery case outside Gujarat and under the jurisdiction of the Bombay high court (See Communalism Combat, April-May 2004). Accordingly, the Bombay high court appointed additional sessions judge Abhay Thipsay to conduct the retrial of the Best Bakery case on a day-to-day basis.
On November 3, 2004 a day before she was to appear before the special trial court of Judge Abhay Thipsay, eye-witness Zahira Sheikh held a press conference under police protection in Vadodara. She charged that she had been kidnapped from Vadodara and forcibly taken to Mumbai where CJP’s secretary Teesta Setalvad kept her under illegal confinement. She claimed that she was being forced by Teesta Setalvad and her colleagues to lie before the court of Judge Thipsay.
Two days later Teesta filed a petition before the Supreme Court praying therein to direct an inquiry to be held into the allegations made by Zahira, the circumstances which led her into making the statement, the persons who assisted her in the process, the role of the Vadodara police who were present during the press conference at Vadodara by an independent investigating agency, the CBI.
On January 10, 2005 the Supreme Court directed the Court’s Registrar General to conduct an inquiry with the help of an inspector general of police, Delhi, and report back to the Court:
"(a) if Zahira Habibullah Sheikh was in any manner threatened, coerced, induced and/or in any manner pressurised to depose/make statement(s) in any particular way, by any person or persons, and
(b) if the answer to (a) is in the affirmation, who the person/persons is (or) are."
On February 21, 2005 the apex court issued a further order to the inquiry committee, asking it "to direct Zahira to file an affidavit indicating details of her bank accounts, advances, other deposits, amounts invested in movable or immovable properties and advances or security deposits, if any for the aforesaid purpose, along with the affidavit to be filed before the Registrar General of this Court. She will also indicate the sources of the aforesaid deposits, advances and investments, as the case may be. She shall also indicate the details of such deposits, advances and investments, if any, in respect of her family members and the source thereof".
On August 29, 2005 the Supreme Court released the report submitted by the inquiry committee. Reproduced below are excerpts from the committee’s report.
No inducement, threat or coercion:
Ø "No inducement, threat, coercion or pressure whatsoever established (against Teesta Setalvad, others from CJP)".
Ø On Zahira’s claim that the several statements/FIR lodged with the inspector Baria and senior inspector KPP Kanani, Vadodara police in March and April 2002, were not her statements but those of "Teesta’s agents" even though they carry her signature:
"Sh. Baria appears to be an independent and believable witness. Nothing is there on record which can suggest any interest of this officer in writing such a statement/complaint on behalf of Ms. Zahira without stating by her. All the five witnesses denied the allegations of Ms. Zahira and against it only the statement of Ms. Zahira cannot be accepted. Thus, no inducement by tutoring, as alleged is proved’".
Ø On Zahira’s two-page memorandum submitted to the National Human Rights Commission (on March 21, 2002) and the Chief