The Gujarat HC today acquitted former minister Maya Kodnani and upheld the conviction of Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi in connection with the 2002 Naroda Patiya massacre case. However, the court commuted Bajrangi's life until death sentence to 21 years in prison.
The court acquitted Kodnani giving her a benefit of doubt.
In 2012, a special SIT court had punished 32 persons including former minister Maya Kodnani and Bajrangi and acquitted 29 others. Kodnani was awarded a 28-year jail term and Bajrangi was awarded imprisonment till his last breath. Ten persons were sentenced to prison for 31 years, while the rest were handed down 24-year imprisonment by special judge Jyotsna Yagnik.
Out of the 32 convictions, the Gujarat high court today acquitted 18 persons including former BJP MLA and minister Kodnani in the case. The court decided on 29 appeals and it will decide on one more appeals later in the afternoon. In all, the high court will decide on 31 appeals as one convict had died while the appeal was pending in the HC.
Out of 29 acquittals, the Gujarat high court upheld 26 acquittals while it convicted three persons. They were however convicted of minor offences like arson and stone pelting etc.
The court upheld the conviction of 12 persons in the case including Bajrangi and awarded uniform punishment of 21 years jail to all convicts.
The high court did not enhance the punishment of any persons convicted in the Naroda Patiya massacre case. HC pulled up the state government in this regard saying that the Gujarat government merely paid lip service to enhance punishment as it neither opposed bail applications of convicts nor underscored that they were convicts in heinous crime while hearing their temporary bail applications.
The court also turned down an appeal of the victims for compensation.
Yagnik said that Maya Kodnani has not been acquitted but she has been given "benefit of doubt". Though she refused to comment upon the case and HC verdict and said "it is unethical and unprofessional to comment upon my own judgment."
Today's verdict came against an earlier order of the special SIT court convicting 32 persons including Kodnani to life imprisonment in connection with the 2002 Naroda Patiya massacre.
Ninety-seven persons, mainly women and children, were killed at Naroda Patiya one day after the Godhra carnage incident.
Appeals were filed by ? the convicts against the trial court order, by the probe agency ? the Supreme Court-appointed special investigation team (SIT) seeking enhancement in punishment, and some of the victims against the acquittals.
A bench headed by Justice Harsha Devani heard arguments from all three sides for more than eight months. Proceedings began on December 19, 2016, and concluded in August last year.
After the appeals were filed in the HC, this case became controversial after six judges ? Justices Akil Kureshi, M R Shah, K S Jhaveri, G B Shah, Sonia Gokani and R H Shukla ? recused themselves from hearing the appeals.
Despite resistance from the SIT and the victims, Justice R R Tripathi decided to go ahead and hear Kodnani's appeal expeditiously, by delinking it from other appeals. This took the issue to the SC, which stayed proceedings for a while. They resumed after Justice Tripathi's retirement.
This was the first case probed and prosecuted by the SIT in which it did not demand the death penalty for the convicts in its appeals. The SIT did not even seek enhancement of punishment for Kodnani on the grounds that it did not receive sanction to do so from the state government.
The city police have reinforced security arrangements at Naroda Patiya.