31 get life sentence for massacre during Gujarat riots at Sardarpura

Ahmedabad: A fast-track court in Gujarat has sentenced 31 people to life imprisonment in the Sardarpura massacre where 33 people were burnt to death by a mob of 1500 in 2002 during the communal violence that was unleashed across Gujarat.

Seventy-three people were tried for murder, attempt to murder, rioting, arson and criminal conspiracy. Of these, 31 were found guilty and convicted this morning; 42 have been acquitted.

The 31 convicted have been found guilty for murder, attempt to murder, rioting and other sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), while they were acquitted for criminally conspiring the murders. The sentence of life imprisonment was pronounced this evening by the principal District and Sessions Judge S C Srivastava, who also pronounced other sentences for the convicted on various other charges. The court also ordered the award of Rs 50,000 each for the victims. Both sides are expected to appeal against the verdict in the High Court.  

The prosecution had sought the death penalty for those found guilty, pleading that the accused had brutally killed 33 people, including 22 adults, 11 children and even an eight-month-old infant, when they set fire to a house in Sardarpura village of Mehsana district on March 1, 2002, a day after the Godhra train burning incident, which left 59 kar sevaks dead. It alleged that the attack on members of the minority community was pre-planned and the conspiracy was hatched by a local leader after the Godhra incident. It had also submitted that weapons were distributed by the accused in the run-up to the incident.

But the court did not award the death sentence to any of the convicted. Public prosecutor S C Shah said the court had not given the death penalty as it had read the charge of Section 302 of the IPC (Punishment for murder) alongwith the charge of Section 149 of the IPC (Every member of an unlawful assembly is guilty of the offence committed in prosecution of common object). Viewing it as a mob fury killing, it handed the 31 found guilty the minimum sentence for murder - life imprisonment.

The accused had claimed that they were being falsely implicated and that the violence was perpetrated by people who had come from outside.

The Sardarpura investigation, originally handled by the local police, was one of the nine cases handed over by the Supreme Court in 2008 to a Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by R K Raghavan, who has earlier served as the chief of the CBI. This is the first of these cases in which a verdict has been pronounced.

Seventy-six people were originally arrested in the case. Two of them died during trial. One of the accused is a juvenile and is facing trial in a juvenile court.

Out of the 42 acquitted, 11 were freed due to lack of evidence, while 31 were given the benefit of doubt. These 31 have been asked to submit a solvency bond of Rs 25,000 each. The court has also directed them not to leave the country without its permission.

While 8 of the accused are still in jail, the rest were out on bail. The families of the accused who were acquitted were seen outside the court but the families of the victims were not present. They would not come to court as they were still feeling scared, Teesta Setalvad, who is legally helping the families of the victims, had said on Tuesday.

Reacting to the verdict, Congress president Arjun Modvadiya said the crocodiles had gone scot-free and had not been investigated.
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