A division bench of the Gujarat High Court on Wednesday concluded hearing on a batch of appeal petitions moved by 32 convicts, including former BJP leader and minister Maya Kodnani, in the 2002 Noroda Patiya riots case of the killing of 97 people — the worst post-Godhra communal violence incident.
Justices Harsha Devani and A S Supehia reserved the verdict after arguments by lawyers representing the convicts, the prosecuting agency — the Supreme Court appointed-Special Investigation Team (SIT) — and victims got over. There are a total of 11 appeal petitions, including four by the SIT.
While all the convicts have appealed against their convictions, the SIT has filed petitions for enhancing sentences of three convicts, including former Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi. Bajrangi was sentenced to life in jail with a provision of remission, but the SIT has challenged that there should not be remission for him.
Besides, the SIT has appealed against seven accused, including sisters Ramila and Gita Rathod, who were acquitted by the special court in 2012. Their brother Mukesh Rathod, who got life imprisonment, has also filed an appeal petition. The father of the siblings, Ratilal Rathod alias Bhavani, was also an accused, but he died during the trial.
The victims have filed pleas against the acquittal of 29 people. The SIT on Tuesday had submitted a 90-page written arguments against the appeal petitions moved by the 32 convicts. On Wednesday, the division bench hinted that the investigation of the case was not proper, while the manner in which FIR was lodged was a “shame”.
During the hearings in the past, the bench had came down heavily on the SIT over the investigation. The appeal petitions were marred with several controversies and judges recusing from hearing those pleas. In April 2015, the Supreme Court had stayed the proceedings after the SIT complained that High Court judge Justice (retd) Ravi R Tripathi was expeditiously hearing only the appeal of Kodnani.In November 2016, Justice Akil Kureshi had recused after senior lawyer B B Naik joined the case despite knowing that this would amount to “conflict of interest.”