The Acting Chief Justice of Gujarat High Court, Jayant Patel, on Wednesday constituted a new bench to hear appeal petitions of former BJP leader Maya Kodnani, Bajrang Dal leader Babubhai Patel alias Babu Bajrangi, among others, who have been sentenced to life imprisonment in the 2002 Naroda Patiya riots case. This is the fifth bench which will start hearing the petitions afresh. The matter was mentioned before the division bench of justices Akil Kureshi and S R Brahmbhatt on Wednesday, but the bench was not available in the absence of justice Brahmbhatt. There are a set of petitions moved by convicts such as Kodnani, Bajrangi and 29 others who were sentenced to life imprisonment by the special trial court in 2012. Ninety-seven persons were killed by a mob at Naroda Patiya in Ahmedabad on February 28, 2002, following the Godhra train carnage. Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team has also moved petitions seeking enhancement of sentences for certain accused. It has also challenged the acquittal of some accused.
The hearing on the petitions first started in February this year by the division bench, led by Justice Ravi R Tripathi, which was stayed by the Supreme Court after complaints of preferential treatment to Kodnani. Justice Tripathi retired during the stay. The matter was sent to the division bench of Justices K S Jhaveri and G B Shah. Justice Shah recused himself from the hearing on July 13.
Two days later, the then Acting Chief Justice, V M Sahai formed the special bench, comprising Justices M R Shah and K S Jhaveri. On July 15, when the matter came up for hearing for the first time before this bench, both the members recused themselves, stating, “Not before the bench where both of us or either of us is a member.” Justice Shah had also stated in the presence of lawyers while recusing that “some of the accused tried to approach them”. On July 10, the matter was posted before new bench of Justices Mohinder Pal and R D Kothari. On August 11, the bench adjourned the hearing till August 19. In the meanwhile, Acting Chief Justice V M Sahai retired on August 12 and, a day later, his successor Justice Patel changed the roster of the court. Since then, the petitions have not been assigned to any bench.