The Gujarat High Court today acquitted former Bharatiya Janata Party minister Maya Kodnani and upheld the conviction of ex-Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi in the 2002 Naroda Patiya riot case in which 97 people were killed by a mob.
A division bench of Justices Harsha Devani and AS Supehia, while acquitting Kodnani, said she should be given the benefit of doubt due to inconsistency in statements of witnesses.
The trial court had described Kodnani as the ‘kingpin’ of the Naroda Patiya riots, one of the worst episodes of the post-Godhra communal violence. The high court upheld the conviction of Bajrangi and found him guilty of criminal conspiracy (IPC Section 120B) along with two other convicts Prakash Rathod and Suresh Jhala.
The trial court had sentenced Bajrangi to life imprisonment till death. However, the HC today reduced his sentence to 21 years of rigorous imprisonment without remission.
The bench was giving its verdict on a set of appeals filed in the riot case.
The high court upheld the conviction of 12 of 29 people pronounced guilty on various charges by the trial court and acquitted the 17 others, including Kodnani. The trial court had convicted a total of 32 people, of which one has died.
The bench will give its verdict on the remaining two convicts in the second part of the day. The high court also convicted three of the 29 people who were acquitted by the trial court. Their quantum of sentence will be announced at a later date.
The court sentenced all the 12, whose conviction it upheld, to 21 years rigorous imprisonment without remission.
Coming down heavily on the Gujarat government which had sought enhancement of sentence of convicts, the court said, “You just indulge in lip service.”
The state government had not opposed the release of the accused on bail but “now you are asking for enhancement of their sentence”, the judges said.
In August 2012, a special court for SIT cases had sentenced 32 people, including Kodnani, to life imprisonment. Kodnani was awarded 28 years in prison. The trial court had sentenced seven of the total accused to 31 years of rigorous imprisonment, while 22 others were given 24 years in jail. It had acquitted 29 people accused in the case.
Kodnani, who was a minister in the government of then Chief Minister Narendra Modi, is currently out on bail, while Bajrangi is in jail.
The rioting took place on Feb. 28, 2002, in the Naroda Patiya area of Ahmedabad where a mob killed 97 people, most belonging to a minority community. The massacre took place a day after the torching of the Sabarmati Express at Godhra, which had triggered state-wide riots.