‘Approach of HC debatable’: Supreme Court grants bail to 4 convicts in Naroda Patiya massacre case

New Delhi: The Supreme Court has granted bail to four convicts in the Naroda Patiya massacre case in Gujarat in which 97 people were killed by a mob during the 2002 riots in the state.

On Tuesday, a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice AM Khanwilkar granted bail these convicts on the chief grounds that the High Court verdict of conviction was “debatable” and that they should be released on bail since their appeal would take much time for disposal. In three bail orders, the Supreme Court has expressed serious doubts over the conviction.

All of the accused were held guilty under Section 436 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy house) of the Indian Penal Code, along with other provisions relating to unlawful assembly.

The bench released Umeshbhai Surabhai Bharwad, Rajkumar, Padmendrasinh Jaswantsinh Rajput and Harshad alias Mungda Jila Govind Chhara Parmar on bail after imposing ordinary conditions to be laid out by the trial court.

The Supreme Court, while deciding the bail plea, also noted that the Gujarat HC had primarily relied upon identification of these convicts by police officials but in some cases, no identification parade was conducted and the appeals raised doubt over their identification in a group of around 15,000 persons.

“Prima facie, we find that the approach of the High court is debatable,” said the bench, while granting bail to Bharwad. It also noted that Bharwad was undergoing treatment for HIV and that he had been on bail during the trial of the case.

Taking up the bail plea by Rajkumar, the apex court noted that the HC convicted him while observing that even in absence of any specific role attributed to the applicant his presence being established, the charge of being a member of the unlawful assembly must hold good. 

“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,” noted the bench, granting bail to Rajkumar.

The court further noted that Harshad alias Mungda Jila was sentenced to 10 years in jail. “He has already undergone more than five years of actual imprisonment coupled with the fact that the hearing of the appeal is not likely to take place in the immediate near future. Accordingly, applicant is ordered to be released on bail to the satisfaction of the trial court,” directed the bench.

It also released another convict, Prakashbhai Sureshbhai Rathod, on interim bail between January 28 and February 15 to attend his daughter’s wedding. 

The Gujarat High Court had on April 20 last year upheld the conviction of 12 out of the 29 accused who were pronounced guilty on various charges by the trial court and had acquitted 17 others, including former BJP minister Maya Kodnani.

At least 97 Muslims were killed in Ahmedabad’s Naroda Patiya area on February 28, 2002, when a mob of thousands descended upon the locality, and murdered them. The incident was one of the worst cases of mob violence during the Gujarat riots.