Friday, August 31, 2012

HC acquits five in Best Bakery riots

The court, however, upheld the life term handed down to four other accused by a trial court 

The Bombay High Court on Monday acquitted five accused in the 2002 Best Bakery riots case for want of evidence, but upheld the conviction of four others sentenced to life by a trial court.
    A division bench of Justices VM Kanade and PD Kode — who had on July 3 reserved the judgment on the accused's appeals against the trial court ruling — upheld the sentences of Sanjay Thakkar, Bahadur Singh Chauhan, Sanabhai Baria and Dinesh Rajbhar. The judges relied on the statements of four injured witnesses, all of whom worked at Best Bakery in Vadodara, Gujarat. The witnesses had identified the accused and said that they were armed with swords and other weapons.
    On March 1, 2002, two days after the Godhra train carnage, a mob attacked the bakery and killed 14 people, mostly Muslims. Seventeen people were named as accused in the case, and a special court in Mumbai convicted nine of them in 2006.
    The nine accused had then moved the High Court, challenging the ruling. The division bench commenced day-to-day hearings over their appeals in March this year.
    The bench overturned the trial court's order against Rajubhai Baria, Pankaj Goasvi, Jagdish Rajput, Suresh, alias Lalo Devjibhai Vasava, and Shailesh Tadvi, saying there was no evidence against them. The judges said none of the witnesses had "attributed" any role to them during the riots.
    In a twist to the case, one of the witnesses, Yasmeen Shaikh, had filed a petition in the court stating that she was "lured and misguided" into giving a false testimony against the 17 accused by activist Teesta Setalvad. She sought her evidence to be recorded again at the stage of appeal.
    The court, however, said that it would first hear and decide on the accused's appeals. Teesta then filed an intervening application asking the court to hear her view while deciding the appeals. The court will pronounce its order on the applications filed by Shaikh and Seetalvad later.
On March 1, 2002, two days after the Godhra train carnage in Gujarat, a mob of 1,200 attacked Vadodara's Best Bakery and killed 14 people, mostly Muslims. The bakery, run by a Sheikh family, was set ablaze by the rioters. Three Hindu workers employed by the family were among those killed.

The Best Bakery case was moved to a special court in Mumbai for retrial after a court in Gujarat acquitted all 21 accused.

Of the seventeen people tried by the special court, nine were convicted and handed down life terms in 2006. Judge Abhay Thipsay pronounced the order in a high-security Mazgaon court packed with lawyers, media persons, activists and celebrities.

    Judge Thipsay decided against handing out the maximum death penalty. "The prosecution didn't seek it and moreover there was no eyewitness account that detailed the specific role of each accused,'' he had observed.
    The star witnesses in the case, Zahira Khan and her family, who turned hostile during the trial, were pulled up by the court.
    Judge Thipsay issued perjury notices against Zahira, her mother Seherunissa, sister Sairabanu and brothers Nafitullah and Nasibullah. The family was asked to explain why action should not be taken against them for "giving false evidence".