ON A day the Gujarat High Court admitted a set of 12 appeal petitions filed by 16 people convicted in the 2002 Gulberg Society massacre, an officer of the Supreme Court-appointed special investigation team (SIT) said they are still awaiting the state government’s nod to move the High Court with their contention that life imprisonment awarded to 11 convicts should be enhanced to death penalty.
The appeal petitions challenge the special court’s order in June, convicting 24 people. The division bench of Justices Anant S Dave and B N Karia admitted the petitions and kept it for final hearing. Given the legal arrangements, SIT, the prosecuting agency in the case, has to take permission of the state government to move higher courts before filing pleas for enhancement of sentences.
“We sent our opinion to the state government and sought their permission to move the High Court much in advance,” an SIT officer said, requesting anonymity. “There is a 90-day limitation for challenging the judgment in higher courts — the 90-day (period) since the special court pronounced the sentencing (on June 17) passed on September 17. We sent a reminder to the government and said that the limitation period was nearing, but we didn’t hear anything (from the government).”
After the 90-day deadline got over, the officer said, the SIT sent another reminder. “The government is yet to respond,” the officer added. The SIT has recommended death sentence for the 11 convicts. In its opinion given to the state government, while seeking permission to file appeal petition in high court the probe team has also sought to challenge the acquittal of 14 people.
In the 12 appeal petitions filed last month, 16 convicts challenged their sentences on various grounds. Pleading innocence, they stated that the testimonies of witnesses are full of contradiction, and are thus not reliable. The convicts who have moved the court are Dharmesh Shukla, Atul Vaidya, Kapil Mishra, Dilip Parmar, Suresh Dhobi, Manish Jain, Mukesh Sankhla, Ambesh Jinger, Mangilal Jain (all sentenced to seven-year imprisonment), Bharat Rajput, Krishan Kumar, Jayesh Parmar, Kailash Dhobi, Raju Tiwari, Jayesh Jinger and Yogendra Shekhawat (all handed out imprisonment for life).
Twenty-four accused were found guilty by the special court in June this year for killing 69 people at Gulberg Society in Ahmedabad during the 2002 Gujarat riots. Thirty-six others were acquitted. The court had found that the mob which had surrounded the society was not “really interested in causing deaths” but turned murderous after former MP Ahsan Jafri opened fire at them.