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Naroda Patiya Riots Case: Gujarat HC Acquits Maya Kodnani, Upholds Babu Bajrangi’s Conviction

By: Meghdoot Sharon


Last Updated: April 20, 2018, 15:00 IST

Image: News18 Creatives/Mir Suhail)

Image: News18 Creatives/Mir Suhail)

Kodnani, who is said to be the mastermind behind the Naroda Patiya violence, was sentenced to 28 years of imprisonment in 2012 after a special SIT Court found her guilty.

Ahmedabad: Former Gujarat minister Mayaben Kodnani has been acquitted of all charges in the 2002 Naroda Patiya massacre case.

The Gujarat High Court on Friday set aside her conviction by a special court in 2012, which had held her guilty of criminal conspiracy and murder, sentencing her to 28 years imprisonment.

Ninety-seven persons of the minority community, including 36 women and 35 children were killed by a mob on February 28, 2002 at Naroda Patiya – one of the most horrific killings in the communal riots that broke out across Gujarat after the Sabarmati Express incident at Godhra.

The Gujarat High Court found several contradictions in the statements of nine witnesses who had testified against Maya Kodnani in the lower court.

Moreover, statements of four police officers who were present at Naroda Patiya when the incident took place do not establish the presence of Maya Kodnani at Naroda Patiya.

“The High Court has held that statements of witnesses differ on Maya Kodnani’s presence at Naroda Patiya. Moreover, no police officer has given a statement that he or she saw Maya Kodnani at Naroda Patiya,” Special Public Prosecutor Prashant Desai told the media after the verdict was delivered.

While Mayaben Kodnani remained elusive from the media, her brother Narayan Meghani reacted after the verdict, saying that the entire family is happy with the acquittal of Mayaben Kodnani. “It has been a long fight for justice, but all of us in the family are happy with the order. We have full faith in the judicial process,” he told News18.

Reacting to the verdict, deputy chief minister and senior BJP leader Nitin Patel said – “The court has acquitted Mayaben Kodnani of all charges. Like thousands of party supporters, we welcome and respect the verdict of the High Court. Now that she has been acquitted of all charges, I personally feel that she should rejoin active politics. She is a big asset to the party and a very senior leader.”

But disappointment was visibly evident on the faces of relatives of those who died in the massacre. Reacting to Mayaben’s acquittal, one of the relatives at Naroda Patiya said, “The court should have granted death penalty to Maya Kodnani. We have seen her at Naroda Patiya and said this before the judge as well.”

Khalifa Bano, a witness in the case said, “I saw Mayaben Kodnani with my own eyes at Naroda Patiya that day. She was instigating the mob too. She has been acquitted and my faith in the judicial process is shaken.”

Another victim Ruksana, whose parents were killed in the incident said, “When the lower court had convicted Maya Kodnani, it was a relief for us. We thought justice was done. But now the High Court has set her free and this is wrong.”

But it was not Maya Kodnani alone who was acquitted by the Gujarat High Court in the case. Of the 32 persons who were convicted by the lower court in August 2012, the conviction of only 12 was upheld by the High Court, with 19 others getting the benefit of doubt (one person who was convicted by the lower court died after the order).

Interestingly, the High Court held three persons guilty among the 29 accused who were acquitted by the lower court. In effect, the Gujarat High Court has pronounced 15 persons guilty in the Naroda Patiya case.

Only three of the 15 persons who have been convicted by the Gujarat High Court are found guilty of criminal conspiracy. These include Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi, Prakash Rathod and Suresh Chhara alias Langdo. Special public prosecutor Prashant Desai stated that all those who have been convicted have been handed over sentences of 21 years imprisonment.

Ninety-seven persons were killed in the Naroda Patiya massacre on February 28, 2002, a day after the Sabarmati Express burning incident at Godhra.

The Naroda Patiya case was one of the key cases whose investigation was handed over to a Supreme Court monitored Special Investigation Team in 2008. In August 2012, the special SIT court had convicted 32 persons, while acquitting 29 others in the case. Appeals were subsequently filed in the High Court by victims, SIT and those convicted in the case.