The deposition by Inspector M D Lathia before the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) has contradicted the statements of two government officers regarding the presence of minister Maya Kodnani and VHP leader Jaydeep Patel at Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gam on February 28,2002.
Earlier,two other government officials,Gaurav Prajapati and Dheeraj Rathod,had testified during the 2002-2003 Ahmedabad police investigations that both Kodnani and Patel were present in Sola Civil Hospital till 1.30 pm on February 28,2002.
The Naroda Patiya incident had reportedly begun around 8 am,while that of Naroda Gam started at noon. Prajapati was then the deputy collector of Ahmedabad while Rathod was the city mamlatdar. The victims of both incidents,however,had testified that both Kodnani and Patel were present in the area,egging on rioters.
But recently,both Prajapati and Rathod made a U-turn and supported Lathia’s testimony before Kodnani was questioned by the SIT.
According to sources,Kodnani’s mobile phone records confirm her presence in Naroda around 12.30 pm on February 28,while Patel’s mobile phone records have shown that he had reached Naroda around 10 am that day. Patel had reportedly used his mobile phone near Gota Chowkdi at 9.30 am,contrary to his claim about being in the Sola Civil Hospital till afternoon.
Lathia,who is posted in Kheda,was summoned by the SIT on November 10,2008. He was questioned about the presence of Patel and Kodnani for the first time since the investigations began.
Lathia testified that Kodnani rushed back from the hospital to Shahibaug around 10.30 am. Patel had reached the hospital early morning on February 28 along with the charred bodies of karsevaks from Godhra. He was in the hospital till 9.30 am only and not till late afternoon as claimed earlier.
“Maya had reached the hospital around 10 am. The relatives of those dead in the carnage had gheraoed her upon her arrival and I escorted her out safely. I sent a police vehicle to escort the minister back to her residence as a precautionary measure. The vehicle that had taken her from the Sola hospital around 10.30,returned to the police station around 11. 30 am,” said Lathia in his statement before the SIT.
Following Lathia’s statement,the SIT questioned Prajapati and Rathod about their earlier testimonies. Both then changed their statements and told SIT that Kodnani and Patel were present in the hospital only in the morning.
Kodnani had reportedly justified her presence in Naroda to the SIT,saying that she was in her maternity clinic assisting a delivery.
The timing of Kodnani and Patel’s presence is crucial,as it can establish their involvement in the case. But even though 44 victims have already deposed before the SIT and the Ahmedabad police about her presence,Kodnani and Patel have never been held.
SIT chief and former CBI director R K Raghvan refused to comment on the issue,saying investigations are still on. Sources said the SIT has been crosschecking Kodnani and Patel’s statements recorded in December last year.