The Supreme Court on Thursday admitted the appeal filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Gujarat government challenging the high court's acquittal of 12 convicts in the sensational murder of former state Home Minister Haren Pandya.
A bench of justices P Sathasivam and J Chelameshwar, while admitting the petition, issued notices to the convicts for their response.
While Additional Solicitor General Harin Raval appeared for the CBI, senior counsel L Nageshwar Rao and counsel Hemantika Wahi appeared for the state of Gujarat.
The appeal was filed by the investigating agency and the state police questioning the August 29, 2010, acquittal by the Gujarat High Court as being erroneous.
The high court had, while acquitting the 12 convicts of the charges of murder, upheld the trial court's decision to convict them for criminal conspiracy, attempt to murder and offences under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
Pandya, a former minister of state for home in the BJP government and once close to Chief Minister Narendra Modi, was shot dead on March 26, 2003, in Ahmedabad when he was out for a morning walk. According to CBI, Pandya was murdered to avenge the 2002 communal riots in the state.
The high court, while criticising CBI for botched-up investigations, had said, "What clearly stands out from the record of the present case is that the investigation in the case of murder of Haren Pandya has all through been botched up and blinkered and has left a lot to be desired."
The accused were earlier convicted for a larger conspiracy by the Special POTA court on the basis of the deposition of main accused Asghar Ali who admitted to their plan to attack prominent VHP and other Hindu leaders of Gujarat to avenge the 2002 riots.
Nine of the 12 convicts were awarded life imprisonment by the POTA court but the high court had acquitted them.
The accused had already undergone eight and half years in jail. Besides Asghar Ali, other acquitted convicts are Mohammad Rauf, Mohammad Parvez Abdul Kayum Sheikh, Parvez Khan Pathan alias Athar Parvez, Mohammad Farooq alias Haji Farooq, Shahnawaz Gandhi, Kalim Ahmeda alias Kalimullah, Rehan Puthawala, Mohammad Riaz Sareswala, Aniz Machiswala, Mohammad Yunus Sareswala and Mohammad Saifuddin.
According to CBI, prior to Pandya's killing, the convicts had made an attempt on the life of a local VHP leader Jagdish Tewari on March 11, 2003.
The agency claimed these two incidents were part of a single conspiracy to spread terror among people in the aftermath of post-Godhra riots.
The offenders were illegally sent to Pakistan by absconding accused Rasul Parti and Mufti Sufiyan Patangia (currently based in Pakistan) and trained at the behest of ISI of Pakistan, the agency had earlier said.
The case was earlier probed by the state police but later handed over to the CBI.