A special court on Wednesday awarded life imprisonment to 31 convicted in a 2002 post-Godhra riot case wherein 33 people of the minority community were burnt alive at Sardarpura village of Gujarat's Mehsana district.
Of a total 73 accused, the court acquitted 42 persons. While 11 of these were freed due to lack of evidence, 31 given the benefit of doubt.
Principal district and sessions judge S C Srivastva, while pronouncing the verdict, directed the 31 convicts to deposit Rs 50,000 each, which would be paid as a compensation to the family of the victims.
The convicts were also awarded imprisonment to terms ranging from three months to 10 years under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). All the sentences will run concurrently.
An additional fine of over Rs 20,000 each has also been imposed on all convicts and if they fail to deposit the same, their punishment would be extended by up to six months.
"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 the Best Bakery case," said former DGP of the state, R B Sreekumar, who is fighting for riot victims.
This is the first post-Godhra riot case of the nine cases being probed by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) where the verdict has been pronounced.
"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 R K Raghavan said.
The Sardarpura riot was one of the ghastly crimes unleashed in the aftermath of the Godhra train burning incident in 2002.