A court in Halol in Gujarat’s Panchmahal district Tuesday acquitted 14 accused of murder and rioting in the post-Godhra 2002 riots, 18 years after the trial was registered. Five other accused were abated from the trial owing to their death during the pendency of the trial.
Additional sessions judge Harsh Balkrishna Trivedi held the prosecution had failed to prove the case, leading to their acquittal, and also relied on the rule of corpus delicti—a body of the crime—noting that it is a “general rule not to convict anybody unless Corpus delicti can be established.” The court said, “In case on hand, on 7/1/2004 when F.S.L. expert reported ‘No DNA profiling results would be obtained upon completely charred bone pieces’ (alleged to have been of the missing persons) then automatically rule of Corpus delicti was required to be considered.”
The court concluded the prosecution could not prove the suspected place of crime, with bodily remains not being recovered from the suspected place of the offence. The court also noted the prosecution failed to establish beyond doubt the presence of the accused at the site of the offence or their specific role in the crime, failed to recover the alleged weapons used for the crime from the accused, and that there was no inflammable substance found at the suspected site of crime.
The case dates back to 2002 in the aftermath of communal riots that broke out across Gujarat following the Sabarmati Express train burning at Godhra. According to the original complaint, several Muslims at the Kalol relief camp who had fled from the Delol village alleged their family members are missing. Another relief camp resident had also complained he had fled from his house in the village with his son to save themselves from a mob of 150-200 people and that there were 18 Muslims from the village who were missing.
A subsequent investigation had led to the recovery of charred bones and other residents, who had lost family members, identifying 20 people as accused who were part of the mob and had witnessed the accused murdering their family members with weapons such as swords and axe. The weapons were not recovered by the investigating authorities. Chargesheets were filed in 2004 in this case.
The 14 acquitted are Mukesh Bharvad, Killol Jani, Ashokbhai Patel, Niravkumar Patel, Yogeshkumar Patel, Dilipsinh Gohil, Dilipkumar Bhatt, Nasibdar Rathod, Alkeshkumar Vyas, Narendrakumar Kachhiya, Jinabhai Rathod, Akshaykumar Shah, Kiritbhai Joshi and Sureshbhai Patel.
According to the prosecution, 17 had been killed by the mob on March 1, 2002, with their bodies burnt to destroy the evidence. As many as 84 witnesses were examined during the trial.