Mehsana (Gujarat): A special fast-track court, Wednesday, awarded life term to all 31 convicted in the 2002 Sardarpura riots case, where 33 people were burnt to death during the communal violence that broke out after Godhra train burning incident.
The court acquitted 42 of the 73 persons accused in the case. Out of the 42 acquitted, 11 were freed due to lack of evidence, while 31 were given the benefit of doubt, who have been asked to submit a solvency bond of Rs 25,000 each. The court has also directed them not to leave the country without its permission.
Pronouncing the verdict, Principal district and sessions judge SC Srivastva directed the 31 convicts to deposit Rs 50,000 each, which will be paid as compensation to the family of the victims.
The convicts were also awarded imprisonment to the terms ranging from three months to 10 years under various sections of IPC. All the sentences will run concurrently.
Additional fine of over Rs 20,000 each has also been imposed on all the convicts and if they fail to deposit the same, their punishment would be extended by up to six months.
The 31 convicted have been charged with murder, attempt to murder, rioting and other Sections of IPC, while charges of criminal conspiracy against them were dropped by the court.
"It is a very satisfying verdict, I am happy with it, it is the result of hard work put in by my officers, I don`t know if it is the biggest ever conviction in the riot case but 31 people convicted for life imprisonment in a riot case is a sizable number," SIT chairman RK Raghavan said.
"This is a historic success. Never before in the history of the trial of communal riots cases in the country, these many people have been sentenced. It has not happened in Bhagalpur or even in Best Bakery case," former state DGP RB Sreekumar, who is fighting for riot victims, said after the verdict.
YB Sheikh, one of the lawyers representing the victims, said they had suffered a great loss as they have lost their family members in the incident.
This is the first post-Godhra riot case, probed by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT), on which the verdict has been pronounced.
After the Godhra train burning incident in which 59 people, mainly karsevaks, were burnt to death on February 27 2002, riots broke out across the state, in which Sardarpura town in Vijapur taluka also fell prey to violence.
A strong mob had surrounded a lane called `Sheikh vaas` on the intervening night of February 28 and March 1, 2002, where minority population of the village used to live.
Fearing the worst, people of the minority community took shelter in a house owned by one Ibrahim Sheikh. However, the mob torched the house after pouring petrol, in which, 33 people, including 22 women, were charred to death.
In all, 76 accused were arrested in the Sardarpur case by the police, out of which two died during pendency of the trial, while one was a juvenile, against whom, trial is on in a juvenile court.
The court had framed charges against 73 accused in June 2009 and initiated trial in the case.
The prosecution alleged that the attack on minority community was pre-planned and the conspiracy was hatched by some local leader, following the Godhra train burning incident.
It had further submitted that weapons were distributed by the accused in the run-up to the incident, who however claimed that they were being falsely implicated and the violence was perpetrated by people who had come from outside.
Advocate Y B Sheikh, representing the riot victims, said that over 80 witnesses, who were also victims of the violence, had named the accused while giving statement to the police and also correctly identified accused in court during trial.
While the trial was on, 112 witnesses were examined, out of the 157 named in the chargesheet. These include 20 doctors, 17 inquest witnesses, 40 riot victims, 20 police and 15 others.