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How Gujarat riots suspects got away

india Updated: Feb 18, 2009 00:57 IST
Stavan Desai
Stavan Desai
Hindustan Times
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“Is the applicant required for pending investigation?” “No.”

It was an answer that wasn’t supposed to be given, and it allowed a Gujarat minister and a leader of the far-right Vishwa Hindu Parishad — prime suspects in two massacres of the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in the city’s Naroda area — to escape arrest.

The unexpected answer came from the independent Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court to probe the riots, reveal SIT documents accessed by Hindustan Times.

Cellphone records and eyewitness accounts have implicated Higher Education minister Dr Maya Kodnani and VHP leader Dr Jaideep Patel in the killing of 11 Muslims, among them women and children, on February 28, 2002, hours before 95 people were hacked to death in nearby Naroda Patiya, a case in which Kodnani faces arrest.

“That question has wrongly been inserted in the affidavit,” said SIT Deputy Superintendent of Police Pravinsinh Maal, the officer who said “no” to a sessions court, when asked if Kodnani and Patel were not needed for further investigation.

“It’s a fixed format of the affidavit and I gave what I thought was the best answer.”

How then did the same question, in a similar affidavit filed by another SIT officer, against Kodnani’s anticipatory bail plea say: “The accused is to be arrested.” “I will not comment,” said Maal.

Had their anticipatory bail been rejected, Kodnani and Patel would have been arrested by the SIT and questioned about the Naroda killings. After getting bail, the two Sangh leaders soon became, the SIT says, “untraceable”.

Both the affidavits explained how there were “serious allegations” by victims against the two Sangh leaders.

The affidavits say the cellphone records of Kodnani and Patel correlate with their presence — as alleged by riots victims and other eyewitnesses — in areas where mobs went on killing sprees on the afternoon of February 28, 2002.

“According to the tower location as revealed by Kodnani’s cellphone in use then (9825006729), it was located in Naroda area on February 28, 2002 in the morning between morning 7.53 and 9.57 and then between 12.37 and 4.09 pm at Kailash Complex, shop number 105, Naroda,” the affidavit says.

Similarly, “tower location of Patel’s cellphone in use then (9825023887) also shows that it was in Naroda area (through the tower located at the same address) between 10.11 and 11.18 in the morning and later between 12.25 and 12.37 pm,” the affidavit says.

The killings happened between noon and 2 pm, says the SIT affidavit.

The SIT was formed by the Supreme Court on April 18 last year to reinvestigate nine of the most gruesome cases of killings during the 2002 Gujarat communal riots after allegations were made that the state police had not conducted proper investigations and gathered evidence to nail the perpetrators.

The 31-member SIT, headed by retired CBI Director and former advisor of TCS, R K Raghavan, draws its force from the state police. It includes three officers of the rank of inspector general, six deputy superintendents of police, eight inspectors and others.