Citing lack of evidence, the Patna high court has set aside the conviction of all 26 accused, 16 of whom were awarded death sentence by a lower court, for the massacre of 58 dalits in Laxmanpur Bathe village in Bihar's Jehanabad district 16 years ago.
A division Bench comprising Justices VN Sinha and AK Lal absolved all 26 persons of all the charges for lack of evidence against them. The order was passed on appeals filed by the 26 persons after they were convicted by the lower court.
"We are of the view that the prosecution witnesses are not reliable and so all the convicted persons are entitled for benefit of doubt," the Bench said and directed the release of all convicted persons forthwith.
Terming the court acquittal as "massacre of justice to poorest of the poor", Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (CPI-ML) general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya said the party would move the Supreme Court against the Patna high court verdict.
He said the CPI-ML would also appeal to the apex court to appoint a special investigation team (SIT) on the lines of the one that probed the 2002 Gujarat riots for giving justice to victims of massacre cases in Bihar.
"The Supreme Court should take cognisance of the acquittal of the massacre convicts and order an impartial probe under its direct supervision," he said.
Of those acquitted, 16 were sentenced to death and 10 were awarded life imprisonment in 2010 by the Additional District and Sessions Judge of Patna.
Ranvir Sena men had allegedly carried out the massacre December 1, 1997. According to police, charges were framed Dec 23, 2008, against 44 men of the Ranvir Sena for killing Dalits, including 27 women and 10 children.
Police records showed four Dalit families were completely wiped out in the bloodbath.
Laxmanpur-Bathe is situated on the banks of the Sone river in Jehanabad district.
The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) government then, led by Rabri Devi, set up the Amir Das Commission to probe the political connections of the Ranvir Sena. But Chief Minister Nitish Kumar wrapped up the commission after coming to power in 2006.
Opposition parties, including the RJD and the Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist (CPI-ML), alleged that the Nitish Kumar government was protecting the interests of the Ranvir Sena and suppressing the voice of the poorest of the poor.
Last year, Ranvir Sena chief Brahmeshwar Singh was killed at Ara, district headquarters of Bhojpur.
In 2010, Additional District Judge Vijay Prakash Mishra had convicted 26 persons and awarded death sentence to 16 of them and life term to the remaining 10 after finding them guilty in the mass massacre.
The convicts had subsequently filed appeals in the Patna High Court challenging the order.