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Bombay HC hikes Best Bakery witnesses' compensation

July 10, 2012 16:43 IST

Terming as "inadequate" the Rs 2,000 compensation given by the Gujarat government to four key witnesses in the post-Godhra Best Bakery riots case, the Bombay high court on Tuesday hiked it to Rs 3 lakh, considering their "ordeal".

The high court had on Monday heavily relied upon the testimonies of the four employees of the bakery, who had received grievous injuries during the riots, to uphold life sentences to four accused in the case, in which five others were acquitted for want of evidence.

"Compensation given to these witnesses is inadequate taking into consideration the ordeal they have undergone. Hence we direct the Gujarat government to deposit compensation of Rs three lakh each to these four eyewitnesses," a division bench of justices V M Kanade and P D Kode ordered.

Noting that a number of witnesses had turned hostile in the case, the court said it was high time that the state government developed a mechanism for providing protection to witnesses.

Relying on statements of four injured eyewitnesses -- Tufil Ahmed Siddiqui, Raees Khan, Shahzad Khan Pathan and Shailun Khan Pathan -- the court had upheld the conviction and life sentence awarded to the four accused - Sanjay Thakkar, Bahadur Singh Chauhan, Sanabhai Baria and Dinesh Rajbhar.

It had, however, reversed the conviction of five other accused -- Rajubhai Baria, Pankaj Gosavi, Jagdish Rajput, Suresh alias Lalo Devjibhai Vasava and Shailesh Tadvi – after observing that no witnesses identified them as part of the mob that attacked Best Bakery and no specific role was attributed to them.

On March 1, 2002, two days after the carnage in which 59 kar sevaks were burnt alive in Sabarmati Express at Godhra, a mob had attacked Best Bakery in Vadodara. They had looted the bakery, burnt it down and killed 14 people. The mob targeted the Muslims taking shelter inside, including the Sheikh family which ran the bakery. Three Hindu workers employed at the bakery were also killed.

Apart from these four eyewitnesses, the bench also ordered a compensation of Rs 3 lakh to key prosecution witness Yasmeen Shaikh.

Yasmeen, who had testified against the accused during the trial, had filed an application in the high court early this year seeking that her evidence be recorded again, as she was "tutored and misguided" by social activist Teesta Setalvad into giving false evidence against the accused.

Setalvad had also filed an intervening application asking the court to hear her views while deciding the appeals. Though the court had on Monday disposed of the appeals of the accused, it had kept its decision on Yasmeen and Setalwad's applications pending.

While dismissing both the applications, Justice Kanade said, "Yasmeen's evidence is not trustworthy and hence there is no need to further make inquiries into her statement and delay the case. Since we have not made any observations against Teesta, there is no need to hear her application."

Pointing out the number of witnesses who turned hostile in the case, the bench said it was high time the state government developed a mechanism for providing protection to witnesses.

"It is high time the state government evolves a machinery to protect witnesses in sensitive cases like this. A witness protection programme should be enabled so that witnesses feel protected," the court said.

It said such a programme should be undertaken by the state government and not by non-government organisations or private parties to avoid allegations of tutoring and misguidance.

In a relief to defence lawyers Adhik Shirodkar and his team, the bench expunged the remarks made against them by the trial court.

"Although the trial court has discharged its duty at its best, it should have refrained from using harsh words. Such observations against defence lawyers were uncalled for and hence they are expunged," Justice Kanade said.

Justice Kode said, "Sometimes words cause more injury than weapons. Injuries caused by weapons will heal."

The bench also asked the media to exercise caution while reporting sensitive matters like communal tensions.

"India is witnessing communal tension since 1947. At that time we had a leader like Mahatma Gandhi who had a command over both the communities. But unfortunately today we have no such leaders," Justice Kanade said.

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