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In 2012, a trial court sentenced Maya Kodnani to 28 years’ jail in the Naroda Patiya case and Babu Bajrangi to life imprisonment. Photo: AFP
In 2012, a trial court sentenced Maya Kodnani to 28 years’ jail in the Naroda Patiya case and Babu Bajrangi to life imprisonment. Photo: AFP

2002 Gujarat riots: Maya Kodnani acquitted in Naroda Patiya case

The Gujarat high court upheld the conviction of former Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi's conviction in the Naroda Patiya case, the worst incident in 2002 Gujarat riots where 97 people were killed

Ahmedabad: The Gujarat high court on Friday acquitted former state minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Maya Kodnani in the 2002 Naroda Patiya riot case in which 97 people were killed by a mob, but upheld the conviction of former Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi.

The high court upheld the convictions of 13 people including Bajrangi and convicted three others for the first time while acquitting 18 of the 32 people convicted by the trial court in 2012.

Kodnani had been found guilty by the trial court and sentenced to 28 years’ imprisonment. She was out on bail and had challenged the verdict in the high court.

Bajrangi had been sentenced to a life term. The high court reduced his sentence to 21 years.

“The court found Babu Bajrangi, along with Suresh Chhara and Prakash Rathod, to be part of the criminal conspiracy… the court said that his (Bajrangi’s) crime was similar to those of the others convicted and hence his sentence has now been fixed at 21 years," said Prashant Desai, government counsel.

The 3,000-page judgement was pronounced by a division bench of justices Harsha Devani and A.S. Supehia.

The Supreme Court formed a special investigation team (SIT) to enquire into nine riot-related cases in Gujarat, which led to charges being framed against Kodnani in 2009 in the Naroda Patiya case.

The Naroda Patiya massacre took place during the riots that were sparked across the state by the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims at Godhra station in Gujarat on 27 February 2002.

Talking about the court’s reasons for acquitting Kodnani, Desai said that though there were 11 witnesses who had said that she was present at the site and gave a speech, the court found contradictions in the statements.

“None of the police witnesses ever mentioned her presence. The court gave prominence to police witnesses. Also, her name was not there when investigations began in 2002. Her name first cropped up in 2008, when the Supreme Court-appointed SIT began investigating the case," Desai added.

The high court also rejected a plea by the SIT to enhance the sentences of all those found guilty even as it turned down a demand by the families of victims for financial compensation.

A gynaecologist by profession, Kodnani ran a clinic with her husband in Ahmedabad’s Naroda area before her political career took off. A three-time member of the legislative assembly (MLA), she won the 2007 election with one of the highest margins in the state.

BJP president Amit Shah had in September testified before the court in favour of Kodnani, stating that she was not present at the scene of the riot in Naroda Patiya.

Shah, who was the 13th witness to testify in her favour, told the court that he had seen Kodnani at the Gujarat assembly on the morning of the Naroda Patiya riot, and also met her at the Sola Civil Hospital later in the day, where she had gone to console families of victims of the Godhra train attack. The bodies of the train victims had been brought to Sola hospital.

The lawyer appearing for the victims in the case, Samshad Pathan, said he would approach the Supreme Court against the acquittals as well as reduction of sentence of those found guilty.

The judgment sparked reactions with the BJP trying to put the blame on Congress for Kodnani’s conviction.

“Mayaben was wrongfully implicated in Naroda Patiya case by Congress. We are happy that Gujarat high court has pronounced her to be innocent. She has worked hard for the party and will definitely be given an active role in the party if she wishes to continue," deputy chief minister Nitin Patel said.

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