Naroda Patiya case: Gujarat HC acquits Maya Kodnani

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The Gujarat high court on Friday acquitted former BJP minister Maya Kodnani in the Naroda Patiya massacre case.

The trial was completed and 11 of the accused were sentenced to death while 20 others were awarded life imprisonment by the POTA court on March 1, 2011. But accused Bajrangi was sentenced to 21 years in prison, his sentence being commuted from life imprisonment.

The high court, however, upheld conviction of another key accused Babu Bajrangi, but reduced his sentence from imprisonment till death to 21 years of rigorous imprisonment.

However, the High Court acquitted her after several witnesses turning hostile and there was insufficient evidence to establish her presence at the place of the crime. A division bench of Justices Harsha Devani and AS Supehia also cleared 17 others. The bench said charges against Kodnani could not be established. Kodnani, also a gynaecologist - her nursing home is barely 1km away from Naroda Patia - was elected an MLA from Naroda in 2002.

The Special Investigation Team probing Naroda Patiya had argued that a day after the riots, Maya Kodnani was seen inciting mobs at the spot by witnesses.

The Naroda Patiya riots was one of the worst incidents during communal conflagration that engulfed Gujarat, following the train burning incident on February 27, 2002, at Godhra in which 59 Kar Sevaks were killed.

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Three of these had been acquitted by the trial court.Out of the 61 accused in the case, the special SIT court had, in August 2012, held 32 guilty, and acquitted 29.

The special court had in 2012 convicted 32 people, including Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi.

Those convicted (13 people)Babu Bajrangi, Naresh Agarsinh, Murli Naran, Haresh Jivanlal alais Hariyo, Premchand Tiwari, Nawab alias Kadu Bhaiya, Harshad alias Mungda, Bipin Autowala, Suresh alias Richard Didawala, Prakash Rathod, Kishan Korani, Suresh Dallu and Manoj Renumal. State BJP President Jitu Vaghani said "The Congress wrongfully involved our former minister", he said. The riots saw loss of lives of 97 people comprising mainly of women and children.

Firebrand Hindutva leader Pravin Togadia said the state government should not challenge the acquittal of Kodnani and others in the Supreme Court.

Now, the court has upheld Bajrangi's conviction. While there were 11 witnesses, who had deposed against Maya-ben before the SIT in 2008, none of them had mentioned her in their earlier statements after the riots in 2002, " said advocate Hardik Dave, who was one of Kodnani's lawyers. According to the trial court that held Kodnani, said she was the mastermind of the violence in Naroda-Patiya area.