SC grants bail to convicts in 2002 riots case, tells them to do social service
Thirteen of the 17 people convicted and sentenced to life for the 2002 post-Godhra massacre in which 33 people were burnt alive in Sardarpura have been ordered to be released on bail by the Supreme Court on Tuesday. The top court told the 14 people to do social service but ruled that they will have to stay out of Gujarat.
The 13 convicts will be split into two groups. One would be sent to Madhya Pradesh’s Indore and the second, to Jabalpur 500 km away.
Thirty-three members of the minority community were burnt alive at Sardarpura village in Vijapur tehsil of Mehsana district on the night of February 28, 2002, following the Godhra train carnage the previous day in which 59 people, mainly ‘karsevaks’ returning from Ayodhya, were killed.
The 33 dead, who had taken shelter in a ‘pucca’ house to escape from the mob that attacked the community members, included 22 women. They were holed up inside the house that was set afire by the mob using petrol.
The Supreme Court-mandated Special Investigation Team had arrested 76 people in this case. Charges were framed against 73 in June 2009.
When the special fast track court that initially convicted 31 people in 2012, 10 years after the massacre, the conviction was hailed as one of the rare instances of the prosecution’s success to prove a 2002 riots case.
Some of this sheen wore off four years later when the Gujarat High Court acquitted 14 of the 31 convicts. The high court ruled that the prosecution had failed the ‘two-witness’ test prescribed by the Supreme Court. According to this, at least two witnesses should have testified against an accused in a riot case for the court to convict him or her.
The high court, however, had upheld the conviction of 17 people on the basis of this principle.