A division bench of the Gujarat High Court is likely to visit Naroda Patiya this Saturday to understand the geographical location of the scene of offence where 97 Muslims were massacred on February 28, 2002, during the post-Godhra riots.
The bench, comprising Justice Harsha Devani and Justice A S Supehia, has asked the lawyers representing the Supreme Court appointed-Special Investigation Team (SIT), which probed the case, to make necessary arrangements. A senior lawyer representing the SIT said the bench is yet to pass a formal order, but has orally instructed SIT officials to remain present at the spot on Saturday morning.
The bench is hearing a set of appeal petitions moved by 30 convicts, including former BJP minister Maya Kodnani and Bajrang Dal leader Babubhai Patel alias Babu Bajrangi who have been sentenced to life imprisonment. The appeal also includes petitions moved by the victims and the SIT for enhancement of sentences and also against the acquittals.
“We have been orally told by the bench that it wants to visit the scene of offence to understand the geographical location. There is a provision in criminal cases where judges can visit the crime scene for better understanding of cases,” said senior counsel Prashant Desai, who represents SIT in the court.
Earlier, lawyers of the convicts had visited the spot in January, while the SIT lawyers went to Naroda Patiya last month. They said that in the last 15 years a lot has changed in the vicinity, but to corroborate how the riots took place the signs were still visible. They said that over the years, BRTS corridor has come up in the locality, the Noorani Masjid has been reconstructed, the names of several shops have changed, the SRP camp, where a large number of victims took shelter and many were denied entry, has also changed.
The victims have narrated how a mob of 15,000 to 20,000 attacked the Muslims and went on killing spree, raping women and destroying properties. SIT sources said the court would want to ascertain from where such a mob gathered and where the victims ran for help among other important aspects of the case.
The hearing of appeal petitions has been controversial since 2015, when the SIT and the victims approached the Supreme Court against the High Court bench, then headed by Justice R R Tripathi (retired), questioning the priority given to the petition of Kodnani.
The apex court had stayed the hearings for two months.
Justice Tripathi retired and a new bench was assigned to take up the case, but in the last two years at least seven judges recused from the case. In November last year, Justice Akil Kureshi had recused himself after a lawyer related to him joined the case.
He in the open court had said that “it is very painful. We will not say anything but it tarnishes the image of the institution and confidence of people. this should not have happened. I am bound by the court. I have no interest in this case.”