The Supreme Court on Tuesday granted bail to four convicts in connection with the 2002 Naroda Patiya riots case, ANI reported. They were identified as Umeshbhai Bharwad, Rajkumar, Harshad, and Prakashbhai Rathod.
A mob had killed at least 97 Muslims in Ahmedabad’s Naroda Patiya area on February 28, 2002. The incident was one of the worst cases of mob violence during the Gujarat riots.
A bench headed by Justice AM Khanwilkar granted the relief on the ground that the Gujarat High Court’s verdict of conviction was “debatable” and their appeal would take time for disposal, News18 reported. Last year, the High Court had upheld a trial court order convicting Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi. However, it had acquitted former Bharatiya Janata Party minister Maya Kodnani for want of evidence.
The Supreme Court expressed doubts over the conviction orders of three of the accused and granted bail after imposing ordinary conditions to be listed out by the trial court. The top court observed that the High Court had mainly relied upon testimony from police officers, who identified the convicts.
While granting bail to Bharwad, the Supreme Court noted that the High Court’s approach was “debatable”. Bharwad was undergoing treatment for HIV and had been out on bail during trial. The Supreme Court noted that Rajkumar was convicted even though the lower court had ruled any specific involvement, but had charged him as his presence was established.
“Prima facie, we find this approach to be doubtful, especially when the witnesses relied upon by the prosecution are police officials and no identification parade of this applicant was conducted during the investigation by the police,” said the Supreme Court.
The court said that Harshad, who was sentenced to 10 years in jail, had already spent more than five years in imprisonment and his appeal would not be heard any time soon. “Accordingly, applicant is ordered to be released on bail to the satisfaction of the trial court,” it said.
Rathod, the fourth accused, was granted interim bail from January 28 to February 15 to attend his daughter’s wedding.