Gandhinagar: The Gujarat High Court on Thursday acquitted 14 persons out of 31 convicted by a lower court and confirmed life sentence of 17 others, in the 2002 post-Godhra Sardarpura massacre case in which 33 people were burnt alive.
The Sardarpura massacre was one of the nine key post-Godhra riots cases the probe for which was handed over to a Supreme Court-monitored Special Investigation Team (SIT).
A division bench of justices Harsha Devani and Biren Vaishnav confirmed the life imprisonment of 17 persons. However, 14 of the 31 convicted by the lower court were acquitted by the high court due to lack of evidence and contradiction in witnesses account.
In all, 76 accused were arrested in the Sardarpura case, in which 33 people, including 17 women and 11 children, were torched alive by a 1,500-strong mob on the intervening night of February 28 and March 1, 2002.
Of the 76, two died during pendency of trial, while one was a juvenile. The court had framed charges against 73 accused in June 2009 and initiated trial in the case.
Besides the conviction of 31, the lower court had acquitted 42 others. The SIT later challenged in high court the acquittal of 31 of these 42. However, the HC on Thursday upheld the Mehsana district court order acquitting 31 out of these 42.
Meanwhile, the 17 were convicted by high court for murder, attempt to murder, rioting and other sections of the Indian Penal Code.
The HC also upheld the decision of lower court to not accept the “conspiracy theory” put up by the prosecution, which had alleged that the attack on minority community was pre-planned and a conspiracy was hatched following the Godhra train burning incident.
Thirty one persons were earlier awarded life sentence along with a fine of Rs 50,000 each in the verdict passed by special SIT court judge S C Srivastava while hearing the matter on November 9, 2011.
Thirty-three people of the minority community were burnt to death at Sardarpura in Mehsana district a day after the Godhra train burning incident in which 59 people, mainly karsevaks, were burnt to death on February 27, 2002.
The people of minority community took shelter in a ‘pucca’ house of one Ibrahim Sheikh. However, the mob torched the house after pouring petrol on it, in which 33 people, including 22 women, were charred to death.