HC Approach Doubtful, Conviction Debatable: SC Grants Bail To 4 Convicts In 2002 Naroda Patiya case

HC Approach Doubtful, Conviction Debatable: SC Grants Bail To 4 Convicts In 2002 Naroda Patiya case

"The High Court has reversed the acquittal only on the basis of evidence of two police witnesses. Prima facie, we find that the approach of the High court is debatable."

The Supreme Court on Tuesday granted bail to four convicts in the Naroda Patiya massacre case in Gujarat in which 97 people were killed by a mob during the 2002 riots in the state.

The bench comprising of Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice Rastogi while granting bail to Umeshbhai Surabhai Bharwad, Rajkumar, Padmendrasinh Jaswantsinh Rajput observed that the approach of the High Court while reversing acquittal recorded by the Trial Court is doubtful which makes conviction debatable.

While considering applications by Padmendrasinh Jaswantsinh Rajput and Rajkumar @ Raju, the bench said: "The High Court has reversed the acquittal order passed by the Trial Court on the finding that the witnesses have established the presence of the applicant at the scene of offence. The High Court further observed that even in absence of any specific role attributed to the applicant his presence being established, the charge of being a member of the unlawful assembly must hold good. Prima facie, we find this approach to be doubtful, especially when the witnesses relied upon by the prosecution are police officials and no Identification Parade of this applicant was conducted during the investigation by the Police. Identifying the applicant in court by police officials (witnesses) cannot take the matter any further, unless they had known him personally in the past. Moreover, the presence of applicant is stated to be in the group of around fifteen thousand persons gathered at the scene of offence."

The court, allowing the application filed by Umeshbhai Surabhai Bharwad, observed: "It is not in dispute that after a full fledged trial, the applicant was acquitted by the trial court on the finding that he has been named by only two police officials. His name was not mentioned in the FIR. The police officials named him after a gap of four days from the date of incident claiming to have seen the applicant in a group of around 15,000 persons gathered at the scene of offence. No identification parade was conducted in respect of this applicant. The High Court has reversed the acquittal only on the basis of evidence of two police witnesses. Prima facie, we find that the approach of the High court is debatable."

The court also noted that the accused is undergoing HIV treatment.

As regards Harshad @ Mungda Jila Govind Chhara Parmar, the court granted him bail after noting that he as already undergone more than 5 years of actual imprisonment coupled with the fact that the hearing of the appeal is not likely to take place in the immediate near future. Another convict, Prakashbhai Sureshbhai Rathod had prayed for grant of interim bail on the ground that his daughter is getting married on 10th February, 2019. The court granted him interim bail for the period between 28th January, 2019 to 15th February, 2019 on such terms and conditions as may be imposed by the trial court.

The Gujarat High Court had on April 20 last year upheld the conviction of 12 out of the 29 accused who were pronounced guilty on various charges by the trial court and had acquitted 17 others, including former BJP minister Maya Kodnani. The rioting had taken place on February 28, 2002, in the Naroda Patiaya area of Ahmedabad where a mob had killed 97 people, most of them from a minority community. The massacre had taken place a day after the torching of the Sabarmati Express at Godhra, which had triggered state-wide riots.
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