A division bench comprising Justices V M Kanade and P D Kode, who had on July 3 reserved the judgement on the appeals filed by the accused against the trial court verdict, upheld the life sentence of Sanjay Thakkar, Bahadur Singh Chauhan, Sanabhai Baria and Dinesh Rajbhar.
The judges relied on the statements of four injured witnesses, all workers of the Best Bakery, who had identified the accused and said they were present at the place of the incident armed with swords and other lethal weapons during the post-Godhra communal riots.
The bench, however, overturned the trial court order and acquitted Rajubhai Baria, Pankaj Goasvi, Jagdish Rajput, Suresh, alias Lalo Devjibhai Vasava, and Shailesh Tadvi, saying there was no evidence against them. The judges said none of the witnesses had attributed any role to them during the riots.
The division bench had commenced day-to-day hearing in the appeals filed by the nine convicted accused in March this year. On March 1, 2002, two days after the Godhra carnage, a mob had attacked Best Bakery in Vadodara, looting and burning it down and killing 14 people. The mob targeted the Muslims inside, including the Sheikh family which ran the bakery. Three Hindu workers employed at the bakery were also killed.
Of the 17 accused, nine were convicted and sentenced to life by a special court in Mumbai in 2006. The nine had then approached the High Court challenging the order. In a twist to the case, one of the witnesses Yasmeen Shaikh had filed a petition in the High Court stating that she was "lured and misguided" into giving false testimony against the 17 accused by social activist Teesta Setalvad. She sought her evidence to be recorded again at the stage of appeal.
The court had, however, said it would first hear and decide on the appeals filed by the convicts. Teesta too later filed an intervening application asking the court to hear her view while deciding the appeals.
The court will pronounce its order on the applications filed by Shaikh and Seetalvad later.