Updated: November 28, 2021 4:26:18 am
The Gujarat High Court, in an order dated November 25, suspended the life sentence awarded by a trial court to three remaining convicts of the 2002 Gulberg massacre and released them on bail as their appeals against the sentence remain pending before the Gujarat HC. With this, all 11 convicts who were sentenced to life imprisonment in the case, stand released on bail pending their appeals.
The three convicts — Yogendrasinh alias Lalo Shekhvat, Bharat Telli Bhalodiya and Krishnakumar Kalal — had moved applications before the HC seeking suspension of sentence and release on bail pending final decision on their appeal, in 2020 and 2021. A total of 24 people were convicted by the sessions court in June 2016, including 11 who were sentenced to life imprisonment.
Advocate Kshitij Amin, representing the three convicts, primarily submitted that the role alleged to have been played by Shekhvat and Bhalodiya are “less grievous” in comparison with the role alleged to have been played by other convicts — Lakhansinh alias Lakhiyo Bhuriyo Lalubha Chudasama and Dinesh Prabhudas Sharma — and almost similar role played by another accused-convict Bharat Laxmansinh God Rajput.
Since the HC had already suspended the sentence of Chudasama, Sharma and Rajput and have enlarged them on bail pending their appeals, the present accused-convict applicants too must thus be released on bail and their sentences suspended pending appeals, Amin argued.
In the case of Kalal, it was submitted that his role in the crime was almost as grievous or “similar” as the other co-accused who stand released on bail after suspension of their sentence pending appeals.
As per witness accounts, Kalal was part of the mob that had “entered into the society from the front side with sickle” and was a part of a mob “armed with burning rags and had burnt the rickshaw of Gulam Master and destroyed nearby shops” but advocate Amin had submitted that the same is not supported by other witnesses. According to the deposition of another prosecution witness, Kalal was part of the mob and “had dragged Ahsan Jafri and shouting and assaulting him”, but this deposition too was not supported by another prosecution witness, according to Amin.
As submitted during the proceedings, based on witness depositions, Shekhvat, along with other accused persons, was part of the mob that had entered into the society from the back side with a sword but no weapon was recovered.
“Only allegation against the present applicant (Shekhvat) is that he has instigated the mob. According to the applicant, the witnesses stated about the involvement of the applicant before the SIT in the year 2008… none of the testimonies of the said witnesses, could be said to be reliable or trustworthy.”
Witness deposition for Bhalodiya had attributed him for being part of the mob that had assaulted two persons with “deadly weapons near Ankur Cycle Store,” but it was the case of advocate Amin that while witness accounts narrate Bhalodiya seen with a sword, “but no overact is attributed” to him.
The division bench of Justices AJ Desai and Samir Dave took into account the parity of the other eight accused convicts who were earlier released on bail following suspension of their sentence pending appeal and also considered the fact that the respondent prosecuting agency SIT could not “establish more role of the applicant (three accused-convicts) than the role played by those accused persons, who have been enlarged,” on bail earlier by the HC.
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