The Supreme Court on Tuesday granted regular bail to four convicts in the Naroda Patiya massacre case in Gujarat in which 97 people were killed by a mob during the 2002 riots in the state.
The Gujarat high court had on April 20 last year upheld the conviction of 12 out of the 29 accused who were pronounced guilty on various charges by the trial court and had acquitted 17 others, including former Bharatiya Janata Party minister Maya Kodnani.
A bench comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and Ajay Rastogi on Tuesday granted regular bail to four convicts -- Umeshbhai Surabhai Bharwad, Rajkumar, Padmendrasinh Jaswantsinh Rajput and Harshad alias Mungda Jila Govind Chhara Parmar.
The top court also granted interim bail for a period of 19 days to convict Prakashbhai Sureshbhai Rathod (Chhara) to take part in his daughter's marriage on February 10.
He will remain on bail from January 28 to February 15, when he will have to surrender back to jail.
Meanwhile, it accepted the appeal of these persons challenging the high court's verdict convicting them for their alleged roles in the riots case.
Dealing with the bail plea of convict Umeshbhai Surabhai Bharwad, the apex court termed the high court's order convicting him as ‘debatable’ and ‘doubtful’.
Granting bail to Bharwad, a HIV infected person, the bench said, "It is not in dispute that after a full fledged trial, the applicant was acquitted by the trial court on the finding that he has been named by only two police officials. His name was not mentioned in the FIR.
"The police officials named him after a gap of four days from the date of incident claiming to have seen the applicant in a group of around 15,000 persons gathered at the scene of offence. No identification parade was conducted in respect of this applicant."
It noted that the high court reversed the acquittal ‘only on the basis of evidence of two police witnesses. Prima facie, we find that the approach of the High court is debatable’.
While granting bail to Rajkumar and Padmendrasinh, it said that the high court's approach in holding them guilty was ‘doubtful’.
It said the high court had reversed their acquittals on account of their established presence at the scene of offence, saying that the charge of ‘being a member of the unlawful assembly must hold good’.
The apex court noted, ‘prima facie, we find this approach to be doubtful, especially when the witnesses relied upon by the prosecution are police officials and no Identification Parade of this applicant was conducted during the investigation by the Police. Identifying the applicant in court by police officials (witnesses) cannot take the matter any further, unless they had known him personally in the past’.
"Moreover, the presence of applicant is stated to be in the group of around 15,000 persons gathered at the scene of offence," the bench noted.
The rioting had taken place on February 28, 2002, in the Naroda Patiaya area of Ahmedabad where a mob had killed 97 people, most of them from a minority community.
The massacre had taken place a day after the torching of the Sabarmati Express at Godhra in which 59 people were burnt alive, triggering state-wide riots.