This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.
Guj HC Gives BJP Former Minister ‘Benefit Of Doubt’
The Gujarat high court acquitted the prime accused, Maya Kodnani, and 17 others in the 2002 Naroda Patia massacre case, giving her the “benefit of doubt”. In August 2012, the SIT court named Kodnani as “a kingpin of riots” in Naroda area and sentenced her to 28 years in jail in the post-Godhra riot case in which a mob killed 97 people.
The HC, however, upheld the convictions of 13 people, including Bajrang Dal’s Babu Bajrangi. Kodnani and Bajrangi now face trial in another 2002 carnage case — the Naroda Gam massacre in which 11 people were killed.
The 63-year-old former BJP minister got the “benefit of doubt” as the division bench, comprising Justices H N Devani and A S Supehia, discarded the testimonies of 11 witnesses who had claimed spotting her at Naroda Patia during the riots. The bench said witnesses presented contradictory versions about Kodnani’s actions and movements, and no police witness named her in the offence.
“Maya Kodnani’s delayed nailing in the case can’t be accepted,” the bench observed. Her personal assistant, Kirpalsingh Chhabda, was also exonerated.
Kodnani was women and child development minister in the Narendra Modi-led BJP Gujarat government in 2009 when she was arrested in the Naroda Gam and Naroda Patia massacre cases by the Supreme Court-appointed SIT. Her name first cropped up in the Naroda Patia massacre case in 2008.
“After years of harassment, our former colleague has got justice. It is a victory of truth,” Gujarat deputy chief minister Nitin Patel said after the HC verdict.
Kodnani was in hospital during most of her prison time
However, Jyotsana Yagnik, the former judge of the SIT court who had pronounced the verdict in the Naroda Patia trial, said: “Maya Kodnani has not been acquitted, she has been given the benefit of doubt.”
Kodnani, also a gynaecologist — her nursing home is barely 1km away from Naroda Patia — was elected an MLA from Naroda in 2002. Kodnani and her husband were not present at either of their two residences in Ahmedabad after the HC delivered the verdict on Friday. Her security guard said she had gone to offer prayers at a temple in Patan.
Following her conviction in 2012, Kodnani was lodged at Sabarmati central jail. She was taken ill in jail and treated for tuberculosis as well as given shock therapy for severe depression. During most of her prison time, Kodnani remained hospitalised at the civil hospital till she was granted bail by the HC in 2014.
Of the 13 convicted, 12 — including Bajrangi — were handed 21-year jail sentences, with no possibility of remission, on charges of murder, arson, rioting and unlawful assembly. Another convict, Harshad Mungda, was acquitted of murder but was convicted for rioting and arson for which he would serve 10 years in jail.
The HC upheld Bajrangi’s conviction for criminal conspiracy but observed there was no substantial evidence to show he had rioted. The HC disbelieved private witnesses’ testimonies in Bajrangi’s case too but upheld his conviction on the basis of statements given by four policemen.
The HC convicted in cases of two or more witnesses offering matching testimonies. Since evidence failed the “two credible witnesses test” in many cases, 18 of 31 convicts were acquitted.
State government’s role
Turning down the state government’s plea to enhance the punishments of 30 convicts in the Naroda Patia massacre case, the Gujarat high court on Friday came down heavily on the government and observed, “The state government is paying mere lip service.”
Castigating the BJP government for its “mechanical approach” in the case, Justice H N Devani said that whenever the convicts in this case filed applications for temporary bail, the state government never opposed them and didn’t underscore before the HC that they were convicts in heinous crimes.
The high court also came down heavily on the Gujarat police, calling it a “reluctant investigating agency” and castigating it for “whiling away time” in recording the statements of witnesses.
High court rejects victims’ compensation request
In 2012, a special court had awarded 31-year jail term to eight convicts, 24-year terms to 22 people, 28-year imprisonment to Maya Kodnani and jail term till his last breath for Babu Bajrangi. The state government urged the HC to enhance the punishment for 30 convicts, barring Kodnani and Bajrangi, to incarceration till they live. However, the state didn’t grant permission to the SIT to seek greater punishment for Kodnani. This was the first case prosecuted by the SIT, in which the probe agency didn’t seek death sentence for convicts. In other cases, the SIT sought death for riot convicts. The HC rejected a request by the kin of riot victims, that the deaths be compensated. The advocate for the victims’ relatives, MM Tirmizi, said, “Our demand for compensation has been rejected. We will know the reasons after we receive a copy of the order.”