The Gujarat High Court last week awarded ten years of rigorous imprisonment to three convicts in the 2002 Naroda Patiya massacre case, in view of the “gravity and magnitude of the offence and the agony of the victims”.
The Bench comprising Justice Harsha Devani and Justice A.S. Supehia awarded the punishment to P.J. Rajput, Rajkumar Chaumal and Umesh Bharwad. The three had been convicted on 20 April and had sought further hearing on the quantum of sentence on the ground that they were not properly represented.
At the outset, the Court noted that Chaumal had asked to be released on probation, instead of being sentencing. It, however, clarified that in case where the maximum punishment for the offence of which a person is held guilty is imprisonment for life, the provisions of the Probation of Offenders Act would not be applicable.
The Court then went on to highlight the impact of their actions that harmed several innocent people and their property, observing, “This is not a case where one or two properties have been destroyed or set on fire but a case of large-scale destruction of shops, cabins, carts, vehicles, dwelling houses and the religious place of the minority community which has far-reaching consequences and has the effect of uprooting them from their original homes and has compelled them to take shelter in refugee camps. The entire incident had serious communal overtones, the victims whereof were innocent persons.”
The Court also refused to accept as a mitigating circumstance the fact that Rajput has been a school teacher and that Chaumal is an advocate, asserting that their professions in fact make their involvement worse “as it sets a bad example and encourages the lumpen elements as they would feel that their acts are justified as persons belonging to respectable professions were participating in the offence”.
The Naroda Patiya riots case
The trial court had in August 2012 awarded life imprisonment to BJP Minister Maya Kodnani, Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi and 29 others for Naroda Patiya incident of 2002 riots in which 97 people were killed. The trial court had described Kodnani, a sitting BJP MLA and former minister in Narendra Modi government, as “kingpin of riots” in the Naroda area, and had sentenced her to 26 years imprisonment. This is one of the few cases in which the rioters were convicted.
11 appeals were then filed against the order. All convicts had challenged their conviction, while the Supreme Court appointed-Special Investigation Team (SIT) had sought stricter punishment for three convicts, including Bajrangi. The SIT had further challenged the acquittal of seven accused.
During the hearing, the High Court had decided to visit the scene of the offence, but had warned the media against “any intervention”, which it had said would amount to interference with judicial proceedings. A Division Bench comprising Justice Harsha Devani and Justice A.S. Supehia had reserved its judgment on the Appeals last year in August.
The Court had then, on April 20 this year, acquitted Kodnani in the case, while upholding the life sentence awarded to Bajrangi, observing that the charges of conspiracy against him had been established beyond reasonable doubt. The Court had also acquitted two others: Ganpat and Haresh Chhara.