A special court here is likely to pronounce its judgment on Thursday in the 2002 Naroda Gam communal riot case in which eleven persons belonging to the Muslim community were killed.
Former Gujarat minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Maya Kodnani and Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi are among the 86 accused who are on trial in the case. Of 86 accused, 18 died in the intervening period. The court of S K Baxi, special judge for Special Investigation Agency (SIT) cases, is scheduled to pronounce the verdict against 68 accused on April 20.
Eleven persons were killed in communal violence in Naroda Gam area of Ahmedabad city on February 28, 2002, during a bandh called to protest the Godhra train burning a day before in which 58 passengers, mostly Karsevaks returning from Ayodhya, were killed.
The prosecution and defence examined 187 and 57 witnesses, respectively, during the trial that started in 2010 and went on for nearly 13 years with six judges successively presiding over the case, said special prosecutor Suresh Shah. In September 2017, senior BJP leader (now Union home minister) Amit Shah appeared as a defence witness for Maya Kodnani. Kodnani had requested the court to summon him to prove her alibi that she was present in the Gujarat Assembly and later at the Sola Civil Hospital and not at Naroda Gam where the massacre took place. Among the evidence produced by the prosecution is the video of a sting operation carried out by journalist Ashish Khetan as well as call details of Kodnani, Bajrangi and others during the relevant period. When the trial started, S H Vora was the presiding judge. He was elevated to the Gujarat High Court. His successors, Jyotsna Yagnik, K K Bhatt and P B Desai, retired during the trial.
Special judge M K Dave who came next was transferred, prosecutor Shah said. "The trial (deposition of witnesses) concluded around four years ago. Arguments of the prosecution concluded and the defence was making its arguments when then special judge P B Desai retired. So arguments started afresh before judge Dave and later judge Baxi which delayed the proceedings," he said. The accused are facing charges under Indian Penal Code sections 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder), 143 (unlawful assembly), 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting armed with deadly weapons), 120 (B) (criminal conspiracy), and 153 (provocation for riots), among others. The maximum punishment for these crimes is death. Kodnani, who was a minister in the Narendra Modi-led Gujarat government, was convicted and sentenced to 28 years in jail in the Naroda Patiya riot case where 97 people were massacred. She was later discharged by the Gujarat High Court. In the present case, she has been charged with criminal conspiracy besides rioting, murder and attempted murder. The massacre at Naroda Gam was one of the nine major 2002 communal riots cases investigated by the SIT and heard by special courts.
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