Ahmedabad: A Special Investigation Team (SIT) court here on Friday awarded life imprisonment to 11 of the 24 persons convicted in the Gulberg Society massacre of 69 people, including former Lok Sabha member of the Congress Ehsan Jafri, in the 2002 post-Godhra violence.
Twelve of the convicts were sent to jail for seven years and one was given 10-year imprisonment.
Calling the Gulberg massacre as the "darkest day" in the history of civil society, special court Judge PB Desai rejected the demand for death sentence for all the convicts.
The court said life imprisonment for the 11 will be till death if the state does not exercise the power to remit the sentence.
The prosecution had argued that all the 24 convicts should be given the death penalty.
Zakia Jafri, the widow of former Congress MP Ahsan Jafri, said she was not happy with the quantum of sentencing. “This case is not over for me today. We are right where we started. This is not justice, I will have to consult my lawyers again,” Jafri told news agency ANI.
A highly disappointed civil rights activist Teesta Setalvad, meanwhile, dubbed the verdict in the Gulberg Society massacre case as a `diluted and weak` judgement while stating that she would appeal against the same.
"We believe when a person is convicted under Section 436 of willful arson and 149 then there should have been a life imprisonment under these also. And in that sense, it is very much diluted judgement and a weak judgement to which we will surely be appealing," she added.
Special court Judge PB Desai refused the death penalty, saying: "If you look at all aspects, no previous antecedent has been placed on record".
Post the incident, 90 percent of the accused were released on bail, yet no complaints against them have been given even by victims, and there is no record to show that they committed any offence during the time of bail, the judge further said, while giving reasons why he thought that this was not a fit case to give capital punishment to the convicts.
The court said it has decided to award imprisonment for life without any time frame to 11 accused, who have been convicted of murder, while requesting the state not to use its power to remit the sentence after 14 years of imprisonment.
"CrPC provisions give power to the state to remit sentence after 14 years jail, Section 433-A imposes some restriction on that power. In case the state does not exercise the power to remit the sentence, life imprisonment will mean that it is till death," the court said.
"I cannot add beyond what has been prescribed under Section 302, it is not necessary for a state to exercise power to remit sentence, state may not exercise power of remittance," the judge said, adding the court's direction cannot be binding as he cannot take away the executive powers of the state.
As regards the 13 others accused convicted for lesser offences, not including murder (302), the court awarded 10 years imprisonment to one Mangilal Jain, while 12 others were awarded seven-year sentence each.
"All the sentences will run concurrently as the Supreme Court has laid it down clearly that if the crime had single purpose, sentences given for different sections of IPC should run concurrently," the court said.
The prosecution and the victims had demanded that sentences awarded to all the accused should not run concurrently as all the 24 convicts will have to spend their entire life behind bars.
Earlier on June 2, the court had convicted 11 persons of murder and other offences, while 13 others, including VHP leader Atul Vaidya, were charged with lesser offences. It had acquitted 36 others in the case.
Those given life sentence in the case are - Kailash Dhobi, Yogendra Shekhawat, Jayesh Jingar, Krishna Kalal, Jayesh Parmar, Raju Tiwari, Bharat Rajput, Dinesh Sharma, Narayan Tank, Lakhansinh Chudasama and Bharat Taili.
One Mangilal Jain, who was convicted for lesser offence, has been sentenced to 10 years jail term.
Besides, VHP leader Atul Vaid, Mukesh Jingar, Prakash Padhiyar, Surendrasinh Chauhan, Dilip Parmar, Babu Marwadi, Manish Jain, Dharmesh Shukla, Kapil Mishra, Suresh Dhobi, Ambesh Jingar and Sandeep Punjabi have been sentenced to seven years imprisonment each.
During the argument on quantum of sentence, special public prosecutor and counsel for Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT), RC Kodekar, had asked the court for nothing less than death sentence or jail term till death for all 24 convicts.
Lawyer for the victims, SM Vora, also sought maximum punishment for the accused and argued that sentencing for each offence should not run concurrently so that they spend their entire life in jail.
However, lawyer of the accused, Abhay Bhardwaj, has refuted the demand of capital punishment or maximum punishment in his arguments saying that the incident was spontaneous and there were enough provocation for it.
The Gulberg Society massacre, which took place here on February 28, 2002, when Narendra Modi was the Gujarat Chief Minister, shook the nation when a mob of 400 people set about attacking the society in the heart of Ahmedabad and killed the residents including Jafri.
The Gulberg society massacre was one of the nine cases of 2002 Gujarat riots probed by the SC-appointed SIT.
The incident had taken place a day after S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express was burnt near Godhra train station in which 58 'kar sevaks' returning from Ayodhya were killed.
During the course of trial, as many as 338 witnesses were cross-examined, with four different judges having presided over the case.