India's top court blames state government for religious riots

NEW DELHI - India's top court slammed Wednesday the government of the country's most populous state for failing to protect Muslims during communal riots last year that killed some 50 people.

The Supreme Court also criticised state and national intelligence agencies for failing to predict the violence that erupted in eastern Uttar Pradesh state in September that forced some 50,000 Muslims to flee their homes.

"We prima facie hold the state government responsible for being negligent at the initial stage by not anticipating communal violence and for (not) taking necessary steps for its prevention," Chief Justice P. Sathasivam told the court.

The court in New Delhi was responding to petitions filed by lawyers seeking justice for victims of the riots that started in Muzaffarnagar district and spread to neighbouring areas.

The court, which has been scrutinising the progress of relief and justice for those affected, cricitised security agencies for failing to warn about trouble brewing in the district.

The court said those accused of wrongdoing during the riots should be arrested as part of the ongoing state police investigation, while victims and their families offering police assistance should be protected.

The court however denied a request from the petitioners for a national Central Bureau of Intelligence probe into the riots.

Local politicians have been accused of encouraging the violence to polarise the electorally crucial state along religious lines ahead of the national polls starting next month.

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is widely tipped to win the elections, and the ruling Congress party have been battling hard in Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 lawmakers to the lower house of parliament.

Two members of the BJP, who face criminal charges for inciting last year's violence, are standing in Muzaffarnagar and a neighbouring seat at the elections starting April 7.

The carnage was triggered by the killing of a Muslim man, allegedly by members of the dominant Jat Hindu family who accused him of sexually harassing their sister. The Muslims then allegedly killed two Jat boys, leading to violence that fast spiralled out of control.

Muslim villagers, fearing looting and arson in the area, sought refuge in makeshift camps, where a majority continue to live in squalid conditions.

Reports of gruesome murders and sexual violence against women were a blot on the state's chief minister from the Samajwadi Party, who had assumed power a year earlier in 2012.