A special court on Friday awarded life imprisonment to sitting MLA and former minister Maya Kodnani and Vishva Hindu Parishad ex-leader Babu Bajrangi, along with 29 others for their role in the 2002 Naroda Patiya riot case, in which 97 people belonging to the minority community were killed.
Principal judge Jyotsna Yagnik, after finding the 32 persons guilty in the case two days ago, awarded life sentence to 31 persons, including Kodnani and Bajrangi. Sentencing of one accused was held back, as he was absconding.
Saying that Kodnani was the “kingpin” of the 2002 riots in Naroda Patiya, the court awarded her enhanced life imprisonment of at least 18 years for murder and criminal conspiracy, while Bajrangi was sentenced to imprisonment till death.
A regular life imprisonment term is for about 14 years. Kodnani was also awarded 10-year imprisonment under other sections of the Indian Penal Code, which included rioting, attempt to murder, arson, inciting hatred among religious groups and others.
The court said taking into consideration Kodnani's position, who was a sitting MLA when the incident took place, her sentence would not run concurrently. Hence, Kodnani will have to spend 28 years in prison.
The court also found seven other accused had played a crucial role in the biggest massacre of the post-Godhra riots. It enhanced their life sentence to 21 years, which will not go concurrently with 10 years awarded under other sections of IPC. Hence, they will have to spend approximately 31 years in prison.
Twenty two others were awarded simple life imprisonment. This will also not run concurrently with the 10 years awarded under various IPC sections, which means that they would serve nearly 24 years in prison.
The court also directed the Gujarat government to pay Rs 5 lakh as compensation to the woman witness, who was raped by one of the accused. The court said, “There have been offenses of rape and gangrape committed on women, but only one person could be held guilty of rape. The guilty deserves maximum punishment and does not deserve sympathy."
The court observed that communal riots like this were cancer for the secular values of the Constitution.
It said the accused had taken the law in their hands and committed an horrendous crime to take revenge of the Godhra train burning incident that cannot be taken lightly. It further observed that the incident was a targeted killing, systematic campaign and a blot on the society.
“Maya Kodnani was the kingpin of the communal violence. She actively participated and instigated the people to indulge in rioting and be part of an unlawful assembly,” the court held. It also found Bajrangi as the main conspirator and leader who incited the mob and played an active role in the killings alongside other accused.
Court was amused on Kodnani's plea that she was victim of politics after she was found guilty. As she had never raised this point during the course of trial, here statement seems to be untrue, the court said.
On not awarding capital punishment as sought by the prosecution, Judge Yagnik observed that though death penalty brings justice and creates desirable environment of fear among the perpetrators, this court has to consider other aspects, too. “There is global opposition to death penalty. Progressive societies advocate for restricting death penalty. This court believes that use of death undermines human dignity,” the court observed.
The incident had taken place on February 28, 2002, a day after the Godhra train burning incident. On that day, when a bandh call was given by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a large crowd gathered in Naroda Patiya area and attacked the people of the minority community, killing 97 people and injuring 33 others. Those killed included 36 women, 35 children and 26 men.
This is one the cases that was re-investigated by the Supreme Court-appointed special investigation team (SIT). The SIT was also entrusted with the task to further investigate seven other 2002 riot cases and the Godhra train burning case.