A special court in Ahmedabad which acquitted all the 67 accused in the Naroda Gam post-Godhra riots case has criticised the probe conducted into it by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) formed by the Supreme Court and said the evidence of the prosecution's witnesses was full of contradictions and could not be relied upon.
Eleven persons were burnt alive in the Naroda Gam area of Ahmedabad district in Gujarat on February 28, 2002, when a bandh call was given by right wing organisations to protest against the burning of Sabarmati Express train in Godhra a day before.
The court of special judge S. K. Baxi on April 20 acquitted all the 67 accused, including former State Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Minister Maya Kodnani, ex-Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Jaydeep Patel and former Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi. A copy of the court order was made available on Tuesday.
The court observed that when the probe into the case was handed over to the SIT, the responsibility of its investigation officer became special and the "probe into the case is expected to be such".
"The evidence on record in connection with the incident dated February 28, 2002 does not in any way suggest that any of the accused formed an illegal group with common intention and purpose for criminal conspiracy," it said, while discarding the angle of criminal conspiracy put forth by the prosecution.
The claim of criminal conspiracy was made by witnesses six-and-a-half years after the incident, and the SIT did not bother to verify their statements which were in "contradiction" to statements given earlier to the Gujarat police officers before 2008, it said. The SIT took over the investigation into the case from the police in 2008.
Further, while the fact that property and lives of the minority community in the area were destroyed in an attack by an unidentified mob, the prosecution failed to establish that it was done by the accused after they entered into a criminal conspiracy and formed unlawful assembly to do so as claimed by it, the court said.
"On perusal of the written pleadings and the judgments, the parties have not proved the facts that the accused have formed a criminal conspiracy to commit any misdeed or caused the death of any person on the basis of a common intention," it said.
The court accepted the alibi of 21 accused since acquitted, including Maya Kodnani, VHP leader Jaydeep Patel and Babu Bajrangi. It said the SIT investigation officers should have investigated the alibis produced by them which they did not.
Maya Kodnani had called the then BJP president Amit Shah, now Union Home Minister, as a witness to prove her alibi which was accepted by the court.
The former Minister had requested the court to summon Mr. Shah to prove her alibi that she was present in the Gujarat Assembly and later at Ahmedabad's Sola Civil Hospital, and not at Naroda Gam, where the massacre took place.
The court also said the evidence of witnesses is not consistent with each other and reliable. Even the account of star witnesses produced by the prosecution is not consistent with each other and reliable and is full of contradictions.
“Such evidence cannot be relied upon to implicate the accused and prove their crime,” it said. “The prosecution also failed to prove the presence of the accused at the place,” it added.
“Further, the call details of the accused presented by the SIT also do not support the theory of criminal conspiracy,” the court said. “Offences filed against former Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi on the basis of a sting operation are also not reliable,” it said.
Journalist Ashish Khetan, who conducted the sting operation, said he kept a relevant portion of the original audio record and micro chip and deleted the remaining, the court noted.
“The recording was deleted from the point he was admitted to hospital where he claimed to be at the time, and “extra judicial confession” cannot be considered evidence when it is not supported by other competent evidence,” the court said.
There were a total of 86 accused in the case, of whom 18 died during the pendency of the trial, while one was discharged by the court earlier due to insufficient evidence against him. All the 67 accused acquitted last month were already out on bail.