A designated court in Anand, Gujarat on Thursday awarded life sentences to 18 people and handed out seven-year jail terms to five others in connection with the massacre of 23 people in Gujarat's Ode village during the 2002 post-Godhra communal riots.
District and Sessions judge Poonam Singh pronounced the sentence after she found 18 people guilty of murder and criminal conspiracy and five others of attempt to murder and criminal conspiracy on Monday.
The court also imposed a fine of Rs 5,800 each on the accused sentenced to life imprisonment and Rs 3,800 each on the five convicts awarded jail term for seven years.
The pronouncement of the verdict caused uproar among the family members and relatives of the convicts, who were standing inside the court campus, and many of them broke down.
"There is no evidence against the accused. This is injustice, this is not the temple of justice but the temple of injustice," the relatives alleged.
More than 100 people, including women and children, who had gathered at the campus, resorted to sloganeering. However, the police removed them from the premises.
Twenty-three people, including nine women and as many children of the minority community, were burnt to death in a house in Pirwali Bhagol area of Ode village by a mob of over 1,500 people on March 1, 2002, following the Godhra train burning incident that had triggered a communal conflagration across the state.
Of the total 47 accused, the court had convicted 23 and acquitted as many. One accused had died during the course of the trial.
Meanwhile, counsel Ashwin Dhagad said that the defence would challenge the verdict in the high court.
"Statements of witnesses have been contradictory and we will come to know how the court has appreciated those facts only after we get a copy of the judgment," he said.
Special Public Prosecutor P M Parmar said, "The court has declined our plea for capital punishment for the murder accused. However, it has sentenced 18 people to life
"We will be studying the order of the court and then decide on the future course of action," he said.
More than 150 witnesses were examined by the court, while over 170 pieces of documentary evidence were placed before the court.
The trial began at the end of 2009 and was on the verge of completion when the then judge hearing the case resigned in May 2011, citing personal reasons.
Following this, Judge Singh was appointed and all the arguments were made afresh before her.
This is the second major post-Godhra riot case where several people have been sentenced to life imprisonment.
Earlier, in the Sardarpura riot case of Mehsana district, 31 people were awarded life sentences and 42 others were acquitted.
In the Godhra train burning case, the court had awarded death sentences to 11 people and 20 were given life imprisonment.
The Ode riot case is one of the nine cases that were probed by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team led by former Central Bureau of Investigation director R K Raghavan.