New Delhi: A Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde has granted bail to all 14 convicts in the Sardarpura post-Godhra riots case in which 33 Muslims were burnt alive in 2002.
The court said the convicts be sent out of Gujarat to two locations in Madhya Pradesh, where they should undertake community service.
The bench was Tuesday hearing two bail applications filed by the convicts. The main application, by convict Prahladbhai Jagabhai Patel, said the sentencing of six of the 14 accused was based on the account of one eyewitness. According to the other application, one or two witnesses formed the basis of conviction of the others.
Senior Advocate Manisha Lavkumar Shah, who was appearing for the state of Gujarat and opposed the bail, said a trial court in 2011 had convicted 18, but one of them died. The remaining 17 had then moved the Gujarat High Court, which handed out life term to 14 of them in 2016, acquitting three. These 14 have now appealed against their conviction in the SC.
Their bail applications were filed even as their appeal remains pending in SC.
Convicts to stay out of Gujarat after bail
The bench split the convicts into two groups and said one would move to Indore and the other to Jabalpur in MP.
The order came after advocate Paramjit Singh Patwalia, appearing for the convicts, said the 14 should be kept away from Gujarat, citing security issue. He requested that the “court may consider sending convicts away from Gujarat but not restrict them in any one particular state”.
Granting them bail, the CJI directed the authorities to relocate the convicts in Madhya Pradesh. “This way there can be no harm,” said the bench.
The 14 will be kept confined to the territorial limits of Indore and Jabalpur under the supervision of the district legal authorities, the order said.
The SC also asked the convicts to carry out “spiritual and social work during bail”. It said the convicts will have to undertake community services for six hours a week besides reporting to the local police station on a weekly basis as bail conditions.
The bench also asked the district legal authorities to find them work for livelihood and file compliance report recording their conduct.
In its order, the SC noted that there was no report of criminal activity against the appellants.
The Sardarpura massacre of 2002
As many as 33 persons from the Muslim community were burnt alive at Sardarpura village in Vijapur tehsil of Mehsana district on the night of 28 February 2002, a day after the Godhra train carnage in which 59 people, mainly ‘karsevaks’ returning from Ayodhya, were killed.
This was one of the nine post-Godhra riot cases probed by the Supreme Court-appointed SIT.
A mob of hundreds of people surrounded Sheikh Vaas lane in the village where people from the community lived.
The people had then taken shelter in the ‘pucca’ house of one Ibrahim Sheikh, which the mob set on fire using petrol. A total of 33 people, including 22 women, were charred to death.