Forty-four CPI-M supporters and local leaders were on Wednesday sentenced to life imprisonment for the massacre of 11 Trinamool Congress activists at Suchpur village in Birbhum district in July 2000.
Additional district and sessions judge Biswanath Konar who had convicted the 44 yesterday under sections 302 (murder), 148 (rioting with deadly weapons), 149 (unlawful assembly) and section 108 (abetment) of IPC handed down the sentence in a packed courtroom.
All the convicts were fined Rs 1,000 failing which they have to undergo another year in prison under section 108 of IPC.
Besides the convicts were also fined Rs 5,000 failing which they have to spend a further three years in jail.
As many as 23 were acquitted, five were absconding and five had died in the course of the trial. According to the prosecution, the victims were brutally hacked with axes and beaten to death at Suchpur in the Nanoor police station area on July 27, 2000.
Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee hailed the verdict as historic.
"It is a historic verdict in favour of the poor and minorities and democracy and justice. This verdict is also in favour of a change (in West Bengal)," she said from New Delhi. "I salute those who gave witness in the case ignoring threats and torture," she said.
An FIR was lodged at Nanoor police station against 82 CPI-M men and leaders.
The charge sheet was submitted by Nanoor police in August 2001 and the trial began in 2002.
Thirty-two witnesses gave statements before the court, including prime witness Abdul Khalek of Trinamool Congress. Among those convicted were Nitya Narayan Chatterjee, former CPI-M zilla parishad member who led the attackers and Ramprasad Ghosh, a district committee member of the Marxist party.
Among the other CPI-M leaders sentenced were zonal committee members Golam Sarwar, who had been a pradhan at the time of the incident and Badruzaman.
Local committee members who were sentenced were Golam Mehboob and Mohan Sheikh.