The Supreme Court on Thursday granted bail to a convict serving life imprisonment in the 2002 Godhra train coach burning case, noting that he has been in jail for the last 17 years.
A bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice P S Narasimha took note of the submission of a lawyer, appearing for one of the convicts Faruk, that he be granted bail considering the period undergone till now.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Gujarat government, termed the offence as the "most heinous" in which 59 people, including women and children were burnt alive and sought hearing of the appeals of the convicts at the earliest.
The top law officer opposed the bail plea and said usually stone pelting is an offence of minor nature, however, in the instant case, the train coach was bolted and stones were pelted to ensure that passengers cannot come out.
Moreover, stones were thrown at fire tenders also, he added.
"He (the convict seeking bail) instigated others and pelted stones and injured the passengers. Under normal circumstances, pelting of stones may be a lesser offence... But this is different," he said.
"In the facts of the case, the application of bail made by Faruk... is granted. The applicant was convicted of offences punishable under Section 302 (murder) of the IPC and sentenced to suffer imprisonment for life.
"The high court had dismissed his appeal on October 9, 2017. The applicant has sought bail on the ground that he has been in custody since 2004 and has undergone imprisonment for about 17 years. In view of the facts and circumstances of the case and the role attributed to the applicant, we direct the applicant to be granted bail subject to such terms and conditions as may be imposed by the sessions (trial) court,” the bench said in its order.
The appeals against the conviction of several convicts are pending adjudication in the apex court.
Mehta said the appeals were ripe for the final hearing and now they can be listed.
The CJI then suggested the law officer to provide the details such as that of the cases to be heard and assured that he will examine the details.
Faruk along with several others was convicted for pelting stones at the coach of the Sabarmati Express.
On February 27, 2002, 59 people were killed when the S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express was burnt at Godhra, triggering riots in the state.
Earlier, the Gujarat government had opposed in the apex court the bail pleas of some convicts in the case, saying they were not mere stone-pelters and their acts prevented people from escaping the burning coach.
The apex court, while asking the state to specify the individual roles of the convicts, had observed that bail pleas of those who were accused of stone pelting could be considered as they have already spent 17-18 years in jail.
In its October 2017 judgment, the high court had commuted to life imprisonment the death sentence awarded to 11 convicts in the Godhra train burning case.
It had upheld the life sentence awarded to 20 other convicts in the case.
On November 11, the apex court had extended the period of interim bail granted to one of the convicts until March 31, 2023.
It had noted that on May 13, the top court had granted him interim bail for six months on the ground that his wife was suffering from terminal stage cancer and his daughters were differently-abled.
In its November 11 order, the bench had noted that having due regard to the situation which continues to subsist, "We extend the period of interim bail until March 31, 2023 on the same terms and conditions".