New Delhi: The Supreme Court has granted bail to four convicts in the Naroda Patiya massacre case in Gujarat in which 97 people were killed by a mob during the 2002 riots in the State.
A bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar Tuesday granted bail to the four convicts — Umeshbhai Surabhai Bharwad, Rajkumar, Padmendrasinh Jaswantsinh Rajput and Harshad alias Mungda Jila Govind Chhara Parmar.
A mob killed 97 Muslims in Naroda Patiya near Ahmedabad on 28 February 2002 during the communal riots that followed the Godhra train burning in which 59 Hindu train passengers were killed by Muslim antisocial elements according to the findings of the GT Nanavati-AH Mehta Commission.
The Gujarat High Court had on 20 April last year upheld the conviction of 12 out of the 29 accused who were pronounced guilty on various charges by the trial court and had acquitted 17 others, including former BJP minister Maya Kodnani.
“The conviction order is debatable,” the Supreme Court said while granting four of the convicts’ bail on Tuesday.
The apex court bench granted bail to the four convicts, saying they should be released on bail since their appeal would take much time for disposal. In three bail orders, the Supreme Court has expressed serious doubts over the conviction.
The top court also said it is seized of appeals by others convicted in the case, including Babu Bajrangi.
The rioting had taken place on 28 February 2002, in the Naroda Patiya area of Ahmedabad where a mob had killed 97 people, most of them from the Muslim community.
Why Gujarat HC’s Naroda Patiya verdict does not add up
The Supreme Court noted that the Gujarat High Court had primarily relied upon identification of the convicts by police officials but in some cases, no identification parade was conducted and the appeals raised doubt over their identification in a group of around 15,000 persons.
“Prima facie, we find that the approach of the High court is debatable,” said the bench, while granting bail to Bharwad. It also noted that Bharwad was undergoing treatment for HIV and that he had been on bail during the trial of the case.
Taking up the bail plea by Rajkumar, the apex court noted that the HC convicted him while observing that even in absence of any specific role attributed to the applicant his presence being established, the charge of being a member of the unlawful assembly must hold good.
“Prima facie, we find this approach to be doubtful, especially when the witnesses relied upon by the prosecution are police officials and no identification parade of this applicant was conducted during the investigation by the Police,” noted the bench, granting bail to Rajkumar.
The court further noted that Harshad alias Mungda Jila was sentenced to 10 years in jail. “He has already undergone more than five years of actual imprisonment coupled with the fact that the hearing of the appeal is not likely to take place in the immediate near future. Accordingly, the applicant is ordered to be released on bail to the satisfaction of the trial court,” directed the bench.
It also released another convict, Prakashbhai Sureshbhai Rathod, on interim bail between 28 January and 15 February to attend his daughter’s wedding.