A trial court today found 32 persons including former minister in Narendra Modi government, Maya Kodnani and former Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader, Babu Bajrangi, guilty in connection with the Naroda Patia case, where 97 people were killed in the biggest massacre of 2002 anti-minority riots in Gujarat.
"The conviction is for murder and criminal conspiracy," a defence lawyer said after coming out of the court. The court also acquitted 29 accused giving them the benefit of doubt.
Of the 61 accused in the case, total 32 persons were convicted and 29 were acquitted by the court on Wednesday.
According to defence lawyers, the BJP MLA Kodnani was seen crying in the court room after the special additional principal judge Jyotsna Yagnik pronounced her guilty.
Relatives of some of those accused who were found guilty by the court were seen crying in the court campus. They were being consoled by other relatives.
The trial in the case had concluded after final arguments of the prosecution and the defence in April and a tentative date of June 30 was given for pronouncement of the verdict. However, the date of verdict was extended till August 29 by the judge on June 30.
The key accused in the case include former minister and MLA from Naroda constituency Maya Kodnani, ex-VHP leader Babu Bajrangi, local BJP leaders Bipin Panchal, Kishan Korani, Ashok Sindhi and Raju Chaumal.
All the accused have been charged under Indian Penal Code (IPC) 302 (murder), 307 (attempted murder), 120B (criminal conspiracy), 323, 324, 325 (causing grievous hurt with deadly weapons), 367 (kidnapping in order to cause grievous hurt) and various other section.
The Supreme Court in 2008 had ordered reinvestigation in nine of the most sensitive cases of the 2002 riots in Gujarat based on bunch of petitions filed by victims and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
Naroda Patia case was one among them to be re-investigated by the Apex court-appointed special investigation team (SIT).
The incident had taken place on February 28, 2002, one 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 the Naroda Patiya area and attacked the people of minority community killing 97 persons and injuring 33 others.
The trial in the case began in August 2009 and charges were framed against 62 accused. But one accused Vijay Shetty died during the trial.
As many as 327 witnesses including, eye witnesses, victims, doctors, police personnel, government officials and forensic experts and journalists like Ashish Khetan who conducted a TV sting operation on the accused were examined during the trial.
Initially 46 persons were arrested by the police. Later, SIT arrested 24 more persons, taking total persons arrested in the case to 70. However, before the charges could be framed or trial could begin, six persons died, while two persons Mohan Nepali and Tejas Pathak jumped bail and are still absconding.
The case was investigated by eight investigating officers over the last decade. The present investigating officer was Himanshu Shukla on behalf of the SIT.