The Supreme Court today acquitted all the six accused in the 2002 Akshardham temple attack in Gujarat. A Bench of Justice A.K. Patnaik and Justice V. Gopala Gowda reportedly held that the prosecution was unsuccessful in ascertaining their guilt beyond reasonable doubt hence, justified absolution from all the charges.
The Appeals were filed by Adambhai Sulemanbhai Ajmeri and Abdul Kayum, [Crl.A.No.2295-2296/2010] the two accused who were awarded death penalty under POTA and Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code. The other four accused, including Mohd Hanif Shaikh, Abdullamiya Yasinmiya Kadri were punished with imprisonment terms ranging between 10 years and a life term. The accused were awarded sentences by the POTA Court in July 2006. This was the first case, in India, in which the convicts were convicted under POTA.
Earlier in 2004, a petition by the accused for further investigation as well as transfer of the case to CBI was also rejected by the Gujarat High Court.
In 2010, division bench of Gujarat High Court comprising of Justices R M Doshit and K M Thakar had upheld the verdict of the POTA Court, rejecting the appeal of the six convicts. The Gujarat High Court had identified the accused to be a part of the terrorist organizations of Jaish-E-Mohammed and Lashker-E-Toiba.
The world was caught in awe on the wretched day of 24th September, 2002 when tragic events outspread at Akshardham, Bhagwan Swaminarayan, Temple. The temple was attacked by terrorists, killing 32 people and leaving behind close to 80 people injured, scarred for a lifetime, with the memories of attackers who opened fire and heaved grenades inside the temple complex. Two terrorists were gunned down by the National Security Guards, after a 14-hour catastrophe.
While acquitting the accused the Court also held that ""Before parting with the judgment, we intend to express our anguish about the incompetence with which the investigating agencies conducted the investigation of the case of such a grievous nature, involving the integrity and security of the Nation. Instead of booking the real culprits responsible for taking so many precious lives, the police caught innocent people and got imposed the grievous charges against them which resulted in their conviction and subsequent sentencing."
Speaking to Live Law, Dr. Anup Surendranath, Director, Death Penalty Research Project, NLU Delhi, Said,
"As part of the Death Penalty Research Project at NLU Delhi, we had interviewed all three prisoners sentenced to death in this case in Ahmedabad Central Jail. While I am of course not a liberty to reveal the contents of that conversation, it is heartening to see that the Justices AK Patnaik and Gopala Gowda gave sufficient weight to the critical lapses in the investigation and trial and rightly found it sufficient to acquit the three death row prisoners along with others convicted in the case. Very often the rhetoric of national security results in compromising the integrity of the legal process and it is to the credit of the two judges that they have upheld the highest traditions of the rule of law."