Gujarat High Court on Friday, April 20th acquitted former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA Maya Kodnani from Naroda Patiya case but sentenced Babu Bajrangi and 11 others to 21 years in jail.
Facts of the case
In one of the worst communal riots of modern day in India, the Gujarat riots shocked the nation by its brutality. Following the Godhra train incident where 59 Hindu kar sevaks were allegedly killed by Muslims riots broke out in Gujarat. On February 28, 2002 riot 97 people were massacred to death in Naroda Patiya area by rioters in the bandh called by Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal.
Former Minister and BJP leader Maya Kodnani, a gynaecologist by profession who had been at her nursing home in the area was accused by more than a dozen witnesses of instigating violence against the Muslims. She was allegedly spewing insults and inciting the public to physically harm the Muslims populace of the area. She was alleged to have supplied swords to the rioting public and at one point even fired a pistol.
Even after being accused of such serious crime she was not charged then. She went on to win elections and even become a cabinet minister, in Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s government until she was finally arrested in 2009. In 2012, a special court convicted her of criminal conspiracy under section 120 (B) of the IPC and sentenced her along with 32 accused. She was sentenced to 28 years in prison whereas Babu Bajrangi, co-accused and Bajrang Dal leader was sentenced to life imprisonment till death.
All the accused appealed against their convictions to Gujarat High Court. A Division Bench comprising of Justice HN Devani and Justice AS Supehia heard the case of the 32 accused and also of the 29 persons who were released by the special court judge because of lack of evidence. The Court took note of the fact that the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) sought for enhanced punishments for all the accused. It was also noted that Kodnani was named by the trial court, “accused 37 (Kodnani) has been proved to be the kingpin of the entire communal riot and one of the principal conspirators who has actively instigated the rioters and has abetted them to form unlawful assembly to execute the conspiracy hatched under her leadership with other co-conspirators.”
After the conclusion of the hearing, the Division Bench of the High Court had reserved the order in August last year and finally ruled on the case of Kodnani and Bajrangi and other accused. Kodnani was acquitted by the Court and was given benefit of doubt as the Court observed, “Maya Kodnani’s delayed nailing in the case cannot be accepted.” The High Court pointed out that before the SIT investigation commenced in 2008 she was not named as an accused in this case in the original FIR. But accused Bajrangi was sentenced to 21 years in prison, his sentence being commuted from life imprisonment. 7 accused had been given enhanced life imprisonment of 21 years under IPC section 326 (causing grievous hurt), and the remaining accused had been given simple life imprisonment of 14 years.
The Court remarked on the callous disregard of the investigation procedure followed by the Gujarat police while investigating the case. Prashant Desai, the special public prosecutor of this case observed, “eleven witnesses gave different statements on Maya Kodnani’s presence at the location but there were some contradictions,” which the Court could not ignore and had to acquit Kodnani from the case.