Ahmedabad: In a jolt to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, one of his former ministers Maya Kodnani was among the 32 people who were convicted by a special court here on Wednesday in connection with the 2002 Naroda Patiya riots case.
BJP MLA Kodnani was found guilty, along with Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi, under Sections 120 (B) (criminal conspiracy) and 302 (murder) of IPC in the post-Godhra riots case in which 97 people belonging to the minority community were killed.
The 57-year-old MLA broke down in court as Additional Principal Judge Jyotsna Yagnik read out her verdict.
Jyotsna Yagnik however acquitted 29 others in the case.
Kodnani was arrested in March 2009 when she was the minister following a probe by Supreme Court appointed Special Investigation Team and had to resign from the post.
She became an MLA for the first time in 1998 and won elections twice later from that constituency. She was made Minister of State for Women and Child Development in the Modi government in 2007, believed to be at the behest of L K Advani. She was the first Sindhi leader to become a minister in Gujarat since the state was founded in 1960
During the arguments on the quantum of sentence in the special court today, Special Public Prosecutor Akhil Desai sought death sentence for all the convicts.
After hearing all the sides, judge Yagnik reserved the order on quantum of punishment for August 31, a lawyer said.
Desai argued that it is a fit case to be termed as "rarest of rare" and the court should award capital punishment to the convicts.
If the court takes another view, then it should at least award a minimum of 20 years of imprisonment to each of the convicts, he submitted.
Opposing his contention, defence advocate Niranjan Tikani appealed to the court to show leniency towards the convicts, keeping in mind their family background and financial condition.
Tikani also opposed the demand of capital punishment for Kodnani and submitted that her husband has been operated upon recently and is not keeping good health, while her son is studying in the US.
The quantum of sentence will be announced on August 31.
The incident had taken place a day after the Godhra train burning incident of February 27, 2002 which had triggered the state-wide riots.
On February 28, 2002 when a bandh call was given by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a large crowd gathered in the Naroda Patiya area and attacked people belonging to minority community that resulted in the death of 97 people while 33 others were injured in the violence.
The trial began in August 2009 and charges were framed against 62 accused; one of the accused, Vijay Shetty, died during the course of trial.
As many as 327 witnesses, comprising eye witnesses, victims, doctors, police personnel, government officials, forensic experts and journalists including Ashish Khetan, who conducted a TV sting operation on the accused, were examined by the court.
Initially, 46 people were arrested by the Gujarat Police, whereas 24 more people were apprehended after the probe was handed over to the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) in 2008. In all, 70 people were arrested in the case.
Six persons died before the charges could be framed and trial started, while two others identified as Mohan Nepali and Tejas Pathak jumped bail and are still absconding.
Kodnani was arrested by the SIT when she was a minister of state for women and child development in Modi government in March 2009. She was an MLA at the time of the incident.
The Naroda Patiya case was probed by eight investigating officers over the last decade with the latest being Himanshu Shukla on behalf of the Special Investigation Team (SIT).
The Naroda Patiya case was one of the nine cases of Gujarat riots being probed by the SIT, including the Godhra train burning case.
The other cases probed by SIT where judgements have been pronounced include the case in Ode village of Anand where 18 persons were sentenced to life imprisonment and five others to seven years in prison by a special court last month, for the killing of 23 persons on March 1, 2002.
Last year, a special court had awarded death sentence to 11 and life imprisonment to 20 others in the Godhra train burning case where 59 persons were burnt alive in S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express train near Godhra railway station.
Also, 31 persons were sentenced to life imprisonment by another designated court of Mehsana district in connection with Sardarpura riot case where 33 persons were killed during post-Godhra riots.
On July 30, 21 accused were sentenced to life imprisonment by a special court in another case of Dipda Darwaja area of Mehsana, where 11 persons were killed during 2002 riots.
With PTI inputs