The Supreme Court bench headed by Justice AM Khanwilkar on Tuesday ordered the release of four convicts on bail in the 2002 Naroda Patiya riots case. The Court said,
“Prima facie, we find that the approach of the High court is debatable."
The bail was granted to them mainly on the grounds that the High Court's decision of their conviction was “debatable” and their appeal would take time for disposal so they should be released on bail.
The Supreme Court while expressing its doubt over their conviction was of the view that High Court verdict was based upon identification of the convicts by police personnel and also noted that in some cases, even identification parade was not conducted. It was also added that their appeals raised uncertainity on their identification in a group of around 15,000 persons.
The top court has also seized of appeals by others, who are convicted in the case, including Babu Bajrangi.
All the accused namely Umeshbhai Surabhai Bharwad, Rajkumar, Padmendrasinh Jaswantsinh Rajput and Harshad alias Mungda Jila Govind Chhara Parmar were held guilty under Section 436 which deals with mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy house of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), along with other relevant provisions related to the unlawful assembly.
Last year, the Gujarat High Court convicted 16 people, including Babu Bajrangi, whereas acquitted 18 others. The Court handed the convicts 10 years rigorous imprisonment, expressing that their punishment must be consistent with the brutality of the crime.
Naroda Patiya Massacre case, one of the nine major 2002 communal riots cases, took place on 28 February 2002 at Naroda, in Ahmedabad, India, during the 2002 Gujarat riots. 97 Muslims were killed by a mob of around 5,000 people, organised by the Bajrang Dal, a wing of the Vishva Hindu Parishad, and supported by the Bharatiya Janata Party which was in power in the Gujarat State Government. It occurred during the strike called by Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a day after the Godhra train burning incident of February 27, 2002 took place in which 59 kar sevaks were killed.
The incident claimed many lives within a few hours and resulted in curfew which was imposed in 27 towns and cities across Gujarat.
The Trial Court held that Maya Kodnani was a kingpin of the violence, the mastermind of Naroda area however, she was acquitted by the High Court giving her benefit of doubt, though, the High Court upheld the conviction of former Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi, one of the conspirators.