A court in Odisha’s Kandhamal district on Thursday awarded life term to eight persons, including a Maoist leader, for their involvement in the murder of Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four others in 2008.
Special additional district session judge RK Tose also imposed a fine of Rs 10,000 on each of the convicts.
Saraswati and his four associates, including a woman, were killed by a group of unidentified armed assailants at his ashram at Jaleshpata in the district of Kandhamal on August 23, 2008.
The murder of the VHP leader had triggered communal violence in the state that had claimed 38 lives and forced 25,000 Christians to flee from their homes.
The court in district headquarters Phulbani, about 200 km southwest of Bhubaneswar, had reserved the quantum of sentence after convicting Maoist leader Pulari Rama Rao alias Uday on Tuesday and seven others on Monday for the crime.
Though the police had said Maoists killed Laxmanananda, VHP activists suspected Christians to be behind his murder.
The Odisha government handed over the case to the state crime branch (CB) and initiated a judicial inquiry into the murder and subsequent communal violence.
The CB had arrested nine out of 14 accused while the others, including top Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda, are still at large.
In its first chargesheet submitted in 2009, CB named the seven accused that were convicted on Monday by the court.
Subsequently, it arrested two others, including Uday, and submitted its supplementary chargesheet in 2011 against seven others, including those on the run.