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2002 Gujarat riots: Delay in naming Maya Kodnani as Naroda Patiya accused helped in her acquittal

Former Gujarat minister Maya Kodnani was given the benefit of doubt and acquitted in the Naroda Patiya riots case. The benefit of doubt was largely due to the delay in naming Kodnani as one of the accused after the riots in 2002; she was only named in 2008.

india Updated: Apr 21, 2018 11:32 IST
Ketaki Ghoge
Ketaki Ghoge
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
Maya Kodnani,Naroda Patiya,Naroda Patiya riots
Former Gujarat minister and BJP leader Maya Kodnani exits a court in Ahmedabad.(AP File Photo)

The Gujarat high court on Friday reversed a special SIT court order and acquitted former state minister Maya Kodnani, described by the latter as “one of the principal conspirators and a kingpin” of the Naroda Patiya communal riots.

Kodnani, who was sentenced to 28 years of imprisonment in 2012, was acquitted and can now walk free because of the “benefit of doubt’’ granted to her by the high court.

So what changed in the six years between the 2012 order of the special SIT court order and the HC verdict on Friday ?

Lawyers for the accused and the victims agreed that while there had been no change or addition to the material evidence in this case in the last six years, the HC considered the statements made before the first investigation agency that probed the riots — statements that the special court had discarded.

The benefit of doubt was largely due to the delay in naming Kodnani; her name was not mentioned as one of the accused after the riots in 2002, but only figured in 2008.

Read | Disappointed with verdict, Naroda Patiya riot victims to move Supreme Court

The special court was set up to hear the Supreme Court-commissioned special investigation team’s probe of the Naroda Patiya massacre, where 97 died. It is considered one of the most violent incidents of the 2002 riots .

“The high court pointed out that the delay of six years in recording statements against Kodnani gave her the benefit of the doubt. While there were 11 witnesses, who had deposed against Maya-ben before the SIT in 2008, none of them had mentioned her in their earlier statements after the riots in 2002,’’ said advocate Hardik Dave, who was one of Kodnani’s lawyers.

Dave added that the court, while pronouncing the verdict, observed that none of the police officials present at the site and who deposed before the SIT had ever mentioned Kodnani.

The Gujarat riots file
A coach of a train, carrying Hindu pilgrims, burns in Gujarat’s Godhra. (REUTERS FILE)
February 27, 2002: A fire guts a coach of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims, returning from Ayodhya, at the Godhra train station in Gujarat; 59 are killed in the blaze.
Feb 28–Mar 2: Hindu mobs rampage through Muslim neighbourhoods as communal riots break out in several cities across Gujarat. In three days, 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus are killed
Feb 28: Hours after Godhra train burning, a thousands-strong mob reaches Naroda Patiya – a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood in Ahmedabad. The mobs, instigated allegedly by BJP and Bajrang Dal activists, kill 97 people
2002: Gujarat police start investigations, and Maya Kodnani — a state legislator at the time —is not among suspects named in the FIR
2003: Kodnani’s name first appears in survivor accounts shared with the Nanavati-Shah commission set up to inquire into the Godhra train burning and subsequent riots. Witnesses also name Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi
2008: Kodnani is named in an investigation that is taken over by a special investigation team on the direction of the SC.
August 2012: Kodnani, Bajrangi and 29 others are convicted by special court for the Naroda Patiya killings. Kodnani is given a 28-year prison term and Bajrangi ordered to spend rest of his life in prison
April 2013: The Gujarat government led by Narendra Modi clears the way for prosecutors to seek the death penalty for Kodnani and others in a higher court, but reverses its stand in September
July 2014: Gujarat high court grants Kodnani bail after accepting her plea that she is unwell
August 2012-2018: Appeals against Kodnani and Bajrangi’s conviction and sentence are filed at the high court. Between 2014 and 2016, seven judges recuse themselves from the hearing
April 2018: High court acquits Kodnani, giving her the benefit of doubt, after noting inconsistencies in testimonies. HC also reduces Bajrangi’s sentence to 21 years

The special public prosecutor for the government, Prashant Desai , said that the court had pointed to too many “intervening incidents between 2002-2008’’ that made it hazardous to “rely on such statements’’ of the victims.

“In the case of Babu Bajrangi and the two other convictions, the court has relied on police statements against them but this was absent in Kodnani’s case,’’ he added.

The 11 witnesses who had deposed against Kodnani in the special court had pointed to her “instigating and ordering’’ the mob. The special court had in no uncertain terms named her a “kingpin of the riots”, relying on the statements by the witnesses.

“The high court verdict is highly questionable because it seems to be granting Kodnani a leeway because her name was not mentioned in the statements recorded by the state police,’’ said Shamshad Pathan, an activist with Jan Sangharsh Manch and a lawyer, who represented the victims in the special court.

Mihir Desai, the advocate for the victims in the HC, said they would appeal against the judgement . “Why would the police officers depose against a high ranking minister ? Kodnani was made a minister post the riots. I am disappointed with this acquittal,’’ said Desai. He added that the SIT was set up after riot victims moved the SC ,saying they did not trust the state’s probe.

“This is what we have observed in every riot case of 2002.. the foot soldiers get convicted while the political masterminds and instigators get acquitted. There will be an appeal against this judgement,” said Nirjhari Sinha, wife of late civil rights activist and lawyer, Mukul Sinha.

First Published: Apr 21, 2018 07:43 IST